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Nearly powerless

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These days, living in Mindanao is a bit tougher than it was just a few months ago.  Frankly, the Island is on the verge of being powerless… in other words, without electricity.  I wrote a couple weeks ago how Mindanao was on the verge of having to resort to rotating brownouts, and it came to pass shortly after I wrote that article.

Why is there no power?  Mostly, the reason is because of a lack of water, caused by El Nino.  The vast majority of power in Mindanao comes from Hydroelectric sources, primarily from Maria Christina Falls in Iligan City, and from hydro sources along the Pulangi River (also known as the Rio Grande de Mindanao) in Bukidnon.  Because the world is experiencing another El Nino weather patter this year, much of the Philippines is experiencing a severe drought.

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A drought like we are having is bad for all of the Philippines, but it hit’s Mindanao harder when it comes to electricity, because Mindanao is more dependent on hydro generated power than the other islands.  I have been following on the news that the Northern part of Luzon is particularly hard hit when it comes to irrigation for rice farmers and such, but at least they still have electricity up there, or have more than we do down south in Mindanao.

The bad news is that the electricity situation is getting much worse now.  Each day, it seems to worsen.  Local newspaper reports say that if we don’t get rain within the next 70 days or so, our currently supply of electricity will be cut in half, because two major power sources will have to be idled at that point.  And, we are already in dire straits in terms of electricity, I can’t imagine if we lose half of what we have right now.

I have a group of folks in different areas around Mindanao who keep me informed of the power situation where they are.  Thankfully, here in Davao, we are not in nearly the situation that much of the rest of Mindanao is currently in, and I feel really sorry for those folks.  Let’s have a look at what typical electricity situations are in key Mindanao Cities right now:

  • Davao City:  Two hour rotating brownouts.  Brownouts are not daily in every location, but are a few times per week in most places.
  • General Santos City:  Three hour brownouts three times per day.  In other words, basically every area in General Santos goes for 9 hours per day with no electricity now.
  • Cagayan de Oro:  Five hour rotating brownouts daily, once per day in each location.
  • Mati, Davao Oriental:  Brownouts up to 12 hours at a time, daily.
  • Koronadal, South Cotabato:  Brownouts up to 10 hours at a time, daily.
  • Butuan City:  Multiple 2 to 3 hour brownouts every day.
  • Zamboanga Peninsula:  Daily brownouts of up to 18 hours at a time.

So, as you can see, the situation is not good, and is predicted to get worse as time goes by.

As I said earlier in the article, if we don’t get rain in the next 2+ months, the situation will go much worse than it is now.  Problem is that at this time of the year, even during normal cycles, we do not generally get much precipitation, so it is doubtful that we will be seeing much rain anytime soon.

So, what are the options?  Well, they are not that good.  For the government, there is talk of purchasing some diesel burning barges to generate temporary electricity.  This is probably the best short-term fix for the crisis.  For longer term fixes, there are several coal-fired plants being proposed for Mindanao.  Yesterday, a Congressman proposed that the Philippines build a Nuclear plant.  I personally, feel that Nuclear is something that will be an energy solution for the future.  Even President Obama is proposing nuclear generation for the USA now, something that he did not support in the past.  But, building a nuclear plant is something that will take years, and we already have a serious crisis in Mindanao as I type this (hoping that the power doesn’t die on me while typing!).

It would seem that this would be an ideal time to put in place some shorter term solutions, and then pursue some long term greener solutions like Sun, Wind and perhaps other methods.  So far, I don’t see that happening, or even being discussed much at all.  Perhaps the reason is cost, but some of the things being suggested are also very costly, so that would seem to put some of these more eco-friendly generation possibilities into play, but it seems not.  What I will say is that when it comes to doing something to address the energy future of Mindanao, I see a lot of talk, and no action yet.  Something needs to be done, and quickly.  Given that elections are about 2 months away, it would seem likely that nothing will be done, though, and it will be left on the plate for the next President to address.  Problem is, I don’t know where we will stand two months from now, let alone the extra time that will be needed for any new President to get things into place and address the issue.  That could be a year from now before the situation gets even serious consideration.  Mindanao cannot wait a year, unless the rain starts falling.

To show how serious the situation is, a number of businesses in different parts of Mindanao are already considering simply closing up shop, because they cannot operate the business with no electricity.  This does not bode well for Mindanao.

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Bob Martin

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur. Bob is an American who lived in Mindanao from 2000 until 2019. Bob has now relocated back to the USA.

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Paul Thompson
11 years ago

It will take the cost of oil getting so high that Solar, Wind, and Wave power will then be cost effective. My son-in-law’s 10 hector rice farm has no water and the land (Rice Patties) are sitting fallow until the rainy season. His one hector fish farm is drying up and he had to harvest the fish early (this last weekend) to try and save the farm. It going to be a tough situation throughout the Philippines this year, unless we have a good rainy season that starts early, we can only hope!

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Paul Thompson

You are right, Paul, that it will take oil returning to the kind of prices we saw a couple years ago.

One problem down here is that we don’t usually have a very defined wet and dry season. Usually, our weather remains fairly constant all 12 months, and there is not any rain right now…

AmericanLola
AmericanLola
11 years ago

There are other rivers in Mindanao that could be developed for power. The Odiongan river near Gingoog has been looked at by engineers from several countries over the last 15 years, and proposals made. Why no power plant? Because the big-wigs in town kept it from going through. Why? Ecocogy? No. Because each of the big-wigs wanted to be the one who made the money on the project, to they all blocked it. If I can’t have the money, nobody can. That ‘crab-like attitude’ rears it’s ugly head. In the meantime, we still need power, and the people who could… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  AmericanLola

Hi AmericanLola – Yes, you are so right on that. There is talk right now of doing several hydroelectric projects in the Davao region. One of the problems with this kind of stuff, though, is that it should have been tackled five years ago, because if they do it now, it will be years before it goes online. But, for sure, something must be done.

macky
11 years ago

bob, have you considered writing on a laptop? this way, when the power goes, your laptop doesn’t shut down. i work on one and the outages don’t affect me (battery life is 7-8 hrs) except for the loss of A/C and net. initially, the brownouts news left me quite unsettled and i questioned having to move to a country that will affect my work (email/work submissions) … but the wiser person in my marriage told me to relax, see the pluses, and just go out and exercise at the gym or have a coffee break. trying to see the bright… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  macky

Hi macky – I used to do all my writing on a laptop before recently buying that new Atom based PC. But, I had some trouble with the display on my laptop, and decided to make the switch. Probably, now, I will be looking into buying a UPS, which will effectively give me the same protection. Yeah, I’m with you, I can handle the 1 or 2 hour brownouts that we get in Davao. If we had the 9 to 12 hour brownouts that much of Mindanao was getting, I’d have to be looking at other alternatives, no doubt. Got… Read more »

Bob New York
Bob New York
11 years ago
Reply to  MindanaoBob

Having a UPS can come in handy for more than just the PC Bob. I have a couple of them here and I don’t even use them for the PC ( I don’t really do any sensitive work on my pc’s like you do ). I don’t have many ” Blackouts ” here although occasionally trees fall over on the power lines and break them or a drunk driver runs into a utility pole. With those compact flourescent bulbs being so cost effective these days, you can keep one or more of those going for hours on a fully charged,… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Bob New York

Hi Bob – I agree with you, and I fully expect that I will be investing in a UPS or two shortly. I didn’t know that APC (one of the leading brands) was made in the Philippines!

richard
richard
11 years ago

Good Morning Sir Bob – My wife, Baby and I are seriously considering moving to a Hotel during this time or leaving Mindanao and moving to Luzon temporarily during this crisis. Our lease expires at the end of March so the timing is excellent. Also my 71 year old Mother is coming to visit for 4 months and I certainly don’t want to expose her to this hardship so the chances are we wil move to someplace with a more relaible source of electricity or an affordable resort that has back-up generator. We are thinking Tagaytay where it is very… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  richard

Hi richard – I can’t say that I blame you on that. For us, we are somewhat tied here, with the kids in school and such, and having a large family to consider, such a move would be troublesome. That said, I can’t deny that I have had thoughts of the same thing. Last night, Feyma and I were talking about this, and she told me that if things get bad in Davao, I might have to move to Manila myself to keep our businesses going. With having our businesses online, we certainly need electricity to keep operating. Some reading… Read more »

rc
rc
11 years ago
Reply to  MindanaoBob

Hi Bob, Well, I’m certainly up on what happening with the power in Central Mindanao…my wife is still living there with her parents in Quezon. They now have about 8 hour brownouts there, though it doesn’t impact them too much, since the only electricity they use is a couple of lightbulbs and the TV/Stereo. I don’t think this is directly impacting people living in rural areas like that, since they don’t use much electricity to begin with. Though, since they are all farmers, the drought is certainly having a serious impact. And of course, if businesses start moving out, that… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  rc

Hi rc – Yeah, I am not set on any certain fallback location, I just mentioned Manila because that is what Feyma mentioned to me. In the end, if such a drastic measure was necessary, I would have to study where the best place would be. Cebu is a place that I do like.

Randall Jessup
Randall Jessup
11 years ago

Hi Bob, The lack of reliable electricity will have a very negative effect on the growth prospects for Mindanao. Mines and factories use huge amounts of hydro and cannot operate without reliable power. Most power plants take years of planning and building before they come online. This requires politicians to earmark funds for a project that won’t be up and running until possibly after they’ve been voted out of office. So politically it might make more sense to use the funds to have short-term make-work projects that get them re-elected. You’re experiencing their short-sightedness! El Nino doesn’t happen every year… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Randall Jessup

Hi Randall – What you say about planning ahead, population growth and such is certainly 100% correct, no argument can be made otherwise.

On the Internet access, well, it depends. If there is a brownout at the offices of the Internet provider, there is a good chance that you won’t be able to get online, even if you have a generator. Remember, the brownouts are rolling ones, that affect different parts of town at different times, it’s not the whole city at the same time. So, it all depends on where the brownouts are happening.

Ron LaFleur
Ron LaFleur
11 years ago

Bob would you move to Manila alone or the whole family? I would hate to think of you not being in Davao. Good Luck with this stuff-I don’t know what to say that would make anything better. Maybe we can send some Native American Indians to do a few rain dances. Ron

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Ron LaFleur

Hi Ron – The situation would have to get really, really bad before I would even consider the Manila option, and the severity of the situation would determine who all would go to Manila. But, what Feyma and I talked about is that I would go to Manila and the rest of the family would remain here. But, if it was bad enough, I suppose anything could happen. The government of the Philippines, and some Provincial government units have already started doing some cloud seeding, but so far it has not been effective. I, personally am not a big believer… Read more »

Jim Cunningham
11 years ago

Hi Bob- During this time we can count ourselves lucky that there is only the two of us.If we had young children it would be a big problem for sure.When we moved here in 2008 I brought a small generator should power cuts become a problem,so far I have not had to use it this time.We like many others have had to adapt to keeping stocks of refrigerated goods to the low side and Marilou has to visit the market more frequently.Bless her, she keeps reminding me that when she was young and growing up in Talakag they had neither… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Jim Cunningham

Hi Jim – Ha ha… maybe it is the man upstairs… maybe it’s the small lady up north in Manila! 😆 You just never know.

Yes, if Feyma and I were alone without children, the situation would be a bit different. Also, the fact that our businesses, which is our source of income, require electricity and an internet connection. Well, life presents challenges, it is up to us to deal with them and find the best solution. Right now, I am just thankful that Davao has been affected much less than other parts of Mindanao.

neil
neil
11 years ago

Hi Bob Many people were predicting a crisis like this was going to happen, except that now it is being caused by the El Nino effect. I think this was set in motion back when Ramos made all those contracts with the IPP’s, there was a lot accusations that whey were overpriced (that is why electricity costs are so high in the Philippines compared to other Asian countries) and a lot of corruption in those agreements. I think Estrada and GMA were a bit gun shy to make similar agreements and be accused of the same type of courruption (that… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  neil

Hi Neil – You are so right, in fact, back in 2005 or 2006, I wrote an article on my Mindanao Magazine site about how a power shortage was looming for Mindanao in “about 5 years” – sorry to say that my prediction came true. I wish I were wrong.

Abu Farsi
Abu Farsi
11 years ago

Hi Bob, 3 years ago I proposed using micro hydro in my barrangay. I calculated that the stream that runs into my community had enough fall to generate 85 HP (63.38 kilowatt), before it reached the first house. This would be enough power to power at least the first 3 puroks, perhaps the entire barrangay, virtually for free. This was a “no go” as there is no funding for such a system and I did not have funds to install one out of the goodness of my heart either. Aneco is the provider and it is illegal to use their… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Abu Farsi

Hi Abu Farsi – We are all entitled to our rants! Ha ha… maybe they should put that in the Constitution! 😆

Your plan sounds like it was ahead of it’s time!

Bob New York
Bob New York
11 years ago

Brownout schedules have been posted on the internet for Iligan and CDO and maybe other major areas as well. I recently read that an idle deisel power plant in or near Iligan has been reactivated although in the big picture that will be like a drop in the bcuket power wise. It is easy to understand how lack of electrical power can put a big dent into the overall economy of Mindanao in its entirety. I have also read where attempts at seeding the clouds is also being done. Possibly nuclear is the only way of insuring power for the… Read more »

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  Bob New York

Hi Bob – While I am happy that the power companies have tried to keep people informed through their websites, unfortunately, the schedules have been pretty useless. A number of my friends in Iligan have been complaining a lot that the posted schedules are not accurate, unfortunately.

I advocate nuclear energy, I feel it is the most reliable, cleanest and safest thing we can turn to. I believe the time has come for nuclear. Even the USA, which has been very anti-nuclear for decades now is beginning to look at adding additional nuclear capacity.

rc
rc
11 years ago
Reply to  MindanaoBob

Hi Bob – Yes, nuclear is the best possible choice, even in the US. Unfortunately, the Luddite mentality in the US toward nuclear energy has a steep price…takes at least 10 years to bring one on line in the US (and who knows what will happen in 10 years).

I imagine it would take even longer in the Philippines. A move toward nuclear should have been started a decade ago. Unfortunately, nobody thinks about these things as long as the lights are burning…these ideas only happen during brownouts 🙂

MindanaoBob
11 years ago
Reply to  rc

Hi rc – I wholeheartedly agree!

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