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ERC pushes ‘stricter scrutiny’ of power plants’ outages

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By MYRNA M. VELASCO

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) will “uncompromisingly” dissect the root causes of forced outages of power plants, especially at periods when supply-demand condition traverses critical levels.

ERC Chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera noted that if power generating units will conk out again simultaneously during the summer months, the regulatory body will be ready in deploying people “so the plants can be checked on the ground.”

“The moment that a power plant reports an unplanned outage, we will send our people to check and scrutinize what really caused the forced shutdown,” the ERC chief said.

Last year, when power plant outages were happening at almost the same time, it was the ERC that had done most of the “field inspections,” beating even the Department of Energy (DOE) which should have been the agency predominantly exercising such oversight on the power facilities.

Devanadera indicated that it remains a puzzle to them why both the newer and older plants have been confronting recurrent forced shutdowns, hence, that is one area that the regulatory body will be sternly policing moving forward.

“Even the new plants of zero to five years old have been experiencing forced outages, so we want to check on these,” the ERC chief stressed.

The Commission had initiated a study to unearth the technical triggers to power plant outages, but the ERC chief admitted this has yet to be completed – and there are facets they have yet to consider in examining the overall operating conditions of the country’s power plants.

The power mix is dominated by coal technology – and plant owners and operators generally cited “tube leak” as a major factor causing forced outages in their generating units. Nevertheless, in many other power markets, tube leak is considered unheard of as dilemma of coal-fired power facilities.

Within March to June this year, alarm bells had already been raised that tight supply conditions will torment Luzon grid once again, hence, stakeholders are now sorting out various contingency measures on how supply could be shored up primarily if there would be massive unplanned shutdowns of power generating units.

Commonly, it was emphasized that when load shedding or rolling brownouts are implemented by the power utilities, it would be the areas with highest system losses that are being affected first.

The key areas, like business districts or those with feeders aligned to vital installations such as hospitals, military outposts and even government offices, are often spared from power service interruptions.

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