POSTSCRIPT / September 7, 2014 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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NLEx nightmare will recur unless…

PARALYSIS: I was among the thousands of Manila-bound motorists and commuters who were caught last Friday in the hours-long traffic standstill that paralyzed the North Luzon Expressway.

But while others complained they were trapped for as long as four hours in the south end of the 84-kilometer expressway, I was lucky to have sneaked back to Manila in 2.5 hours without a scratch.

I normally negotiate the Balintawak-Clark segment in 75 minutes, arriving in time for the 8:30 a.m. start of the breakfast Friday forum at the Bale Balita (House of News) of the Capampangan in Media (CAMI) at Clark Freeport in Pampanga.

When I entered the Balintawak toll plaza at 7 a.m. that day to drive north, I already noticed that the vehicles on the other side were packed immobile. I had no inkling I would be in that same gridlock.

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FULL TANK & BLADDER: Having monitored traffic on radio and Twitter, I delayed my drive back to 5 p.m. thinking that by that time the overcrowding toward the Balintawak exit would have thinned not. It did somewhat, but not enough to allow a leisurely cruise.

It was good that, as is my routine, I filled up with duty-free fuel before leaving the Freeport and checked my tires. It would be catastrophic to be trapped in unmoving traffic and run out of gas.

The other problem for some travelers is bladder pressure. It helps that I habitually pull over at the Petron station in Bocaue for a mandatory cup of coffee and, before resuming the long trip, a pit stop in the men’s room.

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RECURRING NIGHTMARE: As a heavy user of expressways, I feel qualified to say that NLEx is the safest, most comfortable, and best-monitored. Last Friday, it merely caught the fallout of the incompetence and confused policies of agencies managing the exiting traffic.

The most scenic route is the 94-km Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx). It is a shame that Malacañang continues to delay the full restoration of that bridge in Porac, Pampanga, whose approach caved in during a typhoon in August last year.

That NLEx nightmare last Friday will recur – like the madness on EDSA – if national and local agencies who hold part of the solution do not integrate whatever expertise they claim to have. But some of them are part of the problem.

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CHEAPER POWER: It was a good thing I joined the CAMI forum last Friday and heard the report that P6.50 per kilowatt-hour electricity – compared to our current P10-P3/kwh rate — is possible in this sun-drenched tropical country.

A Filipino-American enterprise is ready to introduce an upgraded sun-powered (solar) technology to generate cheaper electricity. The firm is the DACC Global Phils., an affiliate of the US-based DACC Global.

“With our hybrid solar power generator (Solgen), the cost of electricity could easily drop to a stable 6.50 centavos/kwh in 20 years 24/7 from the start of a generator’s operation,” Ray Horspool, DACC Global Phils. president, said.

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REGULATORY CAPTURE: We did not have the heart to tell Horspool that cheap electricity is nearly impossible in this benighted country, with the power moguls controlling not only the industry but even regulatory offices.

This industry capture from inside and outside is one of the reasons why the Philippines continues to have one of the most expensive and most unreliable electricity supply in the region.

This can also explain why officials warn of a looming power crisis (longer and more frequent blackouts) as early as next year, but have not been doing anything significant to overcome it since they took over four years ago.

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UNTAXED SUNLIGHT: Solgen is operated by the sun’s energy harnessed by high-efficiency solar panels, the reason for the resulting cheap cost of electricity, Horspool said.

Data show that the country has an average of four hours of sunlight daily over the year, although the system’s solar panels need not be exposed to continuous direct sunlight.

The US executive noted that sun energy as a power source is not subject to any tax, like the 12-percent value-added tax imposed on imported fossil fuel (diesel and coal) that runs most generating plants and one of the reasons why local electricity is that expensive.

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SMALL FOOTPRINT: Unlike other solar power technology, Solgen does not need a big area as it only uses land space one percent smaller than the standard solar farm. It comes in box-like units with a panel sticking out, generating electricity from 5-through-100 kw per unit.

DACC Global is offering its product via a 20-year lease arrangement or Build-Operate-Transfer scheme. Charges will be based on the electricity produced by the generator and consumed by the client.

“What we’re actually selling is the electricity produced by our generators,” Horspool explained. “The generating cost estimate includes the costs of financing (in case a client is dependent on loans for operations), land acquisition or use, and other capital expenditures required.”

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TARGET CLIENTS: Among its target clients are utility grade power plants, micro-grid power distributors like electric cooperatives, and even commercial and industrial establishments that heavily use power.

Horspool said his group can put up and operate a system capable of generating up to 500 megawatts in 90 days, provided all the required equipment are already on site.

The DACC Global affiliate has initiated talks with local governments and electric cooperatives interested in the Solgen technology to face a looming power shortage next year, according to Horspool and his business partner Riza Lim of Orissa Wellness Garden.

Data from the CIA World Factbooks show that in 2011, Philippine electric production reached 69.18 billion kwh as against consumption of 61.5 billion kwh, leaving a spare capacity of only 7 billion kwh. Another study of the World Bank shows that power consumption in 2009 stood at 54.22 billion kwh.

DACC Global is headed by Doug Melvin, president of DACC Associates, a 25-year-old enterprise providing security services for the US and foreign governments, private corporations, and the United Nations. He has served in senior security positions for the Executive Office of President, State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 7, 2014)

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