POSTSCRIPT / December 8, 2013 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Hefty power rate hike at this time is sadistic

THUNDERBOLT: Why should captive consumers be punished for the lack of concern and the incompetence of those managing the power sector?

Like a thunderbolt from a clear sky, Meralco electric rates were poised to surge this month by as much asP3.44 per kilowatt hour! It was only after protests reverberated through the franchise area that steps were taken to spread the burden over a longer period.

But with other charges like transmission, system loss, and taxes also gone up, the total increase will be P4.15/kwh. The monthly increase will then be P830 for those using 200 kwh, P1,245 for 300 kwh, and P1,660 for 400 kwh.

The explanation given was that supply of lower-priced electricity in the grid had dropped substantially because of the failure of three natural gas-fueled generators in Batangas to get their regular gas supply. Five other plants were also down.

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PRICE MIX: The Malampaya natural gas platform that supplies cheaper fuel to Batangas generators has shut down since Nov. 11 for preventive maintenance until this coming week.

The plants using gas are those in Illijan (1,200 megawatts), Santa Rita (1,000 mw) and San Lorenzo (500 mw). Illijan is operated by Kepco Phils. (majority controlled by Korean interests), while the two other plants are operated by the Lopez group identified with Meralco (Manila Electric Co.).

Since gas is substantially less expensive than coal and diesel, the three plants are able to sell cheaper electricity to Meralco. But when their power supply dropped, Meralco was forced to draw from more expensive suppliers, thereby raising the composite price.

Meralco the distributor merely passes on the generation costs, charging customers and making money mainly from distribution charges. As front-liner, the last-touch handler, it usually bears the brunt of customers’ complaints.

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INSENSITIVE: But for the government, particularly the Department of Energy, to feign surprise and helplessness over the impending power rate is the height of official insensitivity.

The DoE should be on top of the situation all the time, knowing well in advance fuel supply status and generation plant shutdowns for maintenance. It is supposed to take advance steps to shuffle the supply to make rates bearable.

In well-managed service companies, the personnel department asks the employees to plan in advance their vacation leaves. They cannot just suddenly announce in December that they are going on leave. That will disrupt operations.

For three major generators to suddenly stop or scale down operations or look for alternative fuel (if technically feasible) as if they did not expect the reduction or disruption of their gas supply is the height of incompetence.

To make matters worse, five other plants were out for one reason or another. That was too much for a coincidence.

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CONDITIONING?: Meralco and the regulatory agencies cannot blame customers for suspecting that the rate spike is intentional, calculated to condition the public to dwindling supplies and an impending rise in power rates.

Maintenance of the Malampaya platform and the idling of major generators should not happen simultaneously at around December when demand is at its peak.

This lousy planning of Meralco, generators and regulatory agencies will cost customers 28 percent more for residential users and 45-55 percent more for small and medium enterprises.

Will customers be mollified by the assurance of Meralco president Oscar Reyes that the rates will be raised in tranches “to cushion the impact and make the second tranche during a month when prices are slightly low”?

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NO ORIGINAL SIN: Today is Dec. 8, feast of the Immaculate Conception. But since today is the second Sunday of Advent, the celebration is transferred to the next day, tomorrow.

In his Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 1854, Pius IX pronounced that the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved by God from the moment of her conception from all stains of original sin.

To those who want to offer thanks for the blessings of the year about to end as well as those who seek an easing of physical and spiritual pain, today — a holy day of obligation — is a good day to go to Mass and renew our bonds with the Lord.

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PEARL HARBOR: Dec. 8, 1941, was also the day (Dec. 7 in Hawaii) the Japanese sneak-attacked Pearl Harbor, almost wiping out the US Navy’s Pacific fleet. The aggression forced the United States to join World War II to protect its interests in its Philippine colony in the Pacific.

American toll: Eight battleships (three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer) sunk or damaged; 188 aircraft destroyed; 2,402 Americans killed; and 1,282 wounded.

Japanese losses: 29 aircraft and five midget submarines lost; 65 servicemen killed or wounded; one sailor captured.

The attack came in two waves of 353 fighters, bombers and torpedo planes launched from six aircraft carriers. Japan aimed to cripple American forces to prevent them from interfering with its invasion of overseas territories of the Allies.

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COLLATERAL DAMAGE: Our town of Mabalacat (now a city) suffered among the worst collateral damage inflicted by the followup Japanese attacks on Clark Field that, at the time, hosted a US cavalry station and an air base. Most of Clark is in Mabalacat.

Starting as Fort Stotsenberg in 1903 as an outpost of the US Army 5th Cavalry, the station strategically located in Central Luzon grew to become home base of the US 13th Air Force, the biggest air installation outside the US mainland.

American GIs would tell the local folk that Stotsenberg was a perfect cavalry station because of the clean streams meandering through the bamboo groves and the acacias as well as the abundance of zacate (a variety of grass) relished by the horses.

Clark air base had the advantage of the prevailing wind current in the area being generally behaved and predictable. In addition, the installation was protected from the west (facing South China Sea) by the Zambales ranges.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 8, 2013)

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