The predicament of residents living near the Maco, Comval power barge mirrors the situation of those living near power generating facilities. Wealth is so near, yet so far away for these people. Residents in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato and Iligan City, Lanao del Norte are themselves victims of long, paralyzing daily power cuts. The two cities are host to geothermal and hydropower plants, two key sources in Mindanao.
By JOHN RIZLE L. SALIGUMBA
MACO, Compostela Valley, Philippines — “We turn off the lights at night to lessen our electricity charges. Power rate here is more expensive than in Davao City,” retail storeowner Inday Mahusay said.
Mahusay’s sari-sari (retail) store is a few meters away from Therma Marine Incorporated (TMI) power barge 118 (PB 118), an oil-fired power generation facility operated by top power producer Aboitiz Power Corporation (APC) in Maco town, Compostela Valley.
The proximity, however, has not guaranteed residents like Mahusay steady power supply as they are plagued with three to five-hour daily brown outs. PB 118 supplies power to electric cooperatives such as the Cotabato Electric Cooperative.
In the midst of power shortages, Mahusay’s family had no choice but to pay their monthly electricity bill of PHP 800 (USD 18.78) to PHP 1,200 (USD 28.18). Conserving power was no mean feat, considering that they use the energy consuming refrigerator as they sell soft drinks, liquors, other beverages and ice. As their store was low-ceilinged, they would need three incandescent light bulbs, another energy-eating fixture.
Mahusay’s predicament mirrors the situation of many residents living near power generating facilities. Wealth is so near, yet so far away for these people. For instance, residents in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato and Iligan City, Lanao del Norte are themselves victims of long, paralyzing daily power cuts. The two cities are host to geothermal and hydropower plants, two key sources in Mindanao.
The government through the National Power Corporation built the Maco power barge PB 188 in 1994. Fifteen years later, the Aboitizes bought the facility along with the PB 117 in Nasipit town, Agusan del Norte.
Business was good in that the top firm purchased four other power barges in May last year amounting to PHP 2.3 Billion (USD 0.05B). Quarterly income by the Aboitiz Equity Ventures soared to 27%, posting at PHP 5.8 Billion (USD 0.14B), owing PHP 4.3 Billion (USD 0.10B) to APC’s income.
But for residents like Mahusay, the privately owned power barge failed in providing the steady and cheap source of electricity.
And if it is replicated all over the country, would it benefit the majority?
“Only the rich can afford that, not us,” Mahusay said adding, it’s already difficult for them to maintain an energy-consuming sari-saristore.
During the Mindanao Energy Summit attended by 300 power industry stakeholders last April 13, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III weighed in on privatization as the ultimate solution to power outages.
Aquino said it’s not good for the government to control and operate the Agus and Pulangi hydropower plants, thus, these are better sold to private entities.
During the energy summit, Davao del Norte Governor Rodolfo Del Rosario urged President Aquino not to privatize the Agus and Pulangi power plants considering that these plants earned for the government a revenue of PHP 7 Billion (USD 0.16B).
Aquino, however, argued that privatization is the better long-term solution because these facilities would be free from bureaucracy and the tendency to be mishandled by the government.
Yet, as in the experience of Maco power barge, once the remaining government-owned power facilities in Mindanao are sold to the next businessman, expect more costly electricity charges and increased power outages.
And for ordinary families like the Mahusays, this is an additional suffering that could kill their modest business. (John Rizle L. Saligumba/davaotoday.com)Poverty, Trade, World