Security lessons

June 3, 2022

An energy crisis hit the nation in the late ’80s after the People Power Revolt that installed Cory Aquino.

Among her first governance agenda was political vendetta by removing all vestiges of the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos. Strangely, this included the abolition of the Ministry of Energy, which left the government without any body to oversee energy supply.

The National Power Corp. then became the de facto Energy department which, nonetheless, was not equipped with the programs of the Marcos era that included the then highly-criticized Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP).

Several myths were floated about BNPP, including its being the milking cow of energy officials then, and a source of a possible radioactive future.

What resulted was an energy stupor that led to the disastrous power crisis, since supply of electricity failed to keep up with the surge in economic activity. No investor dared to put up a power plant with the experience of the sudden cancellation of the BNPP operation that injected uncertainty.

Manila was then hit by daily blackouts, usually lasting four or five hours. Office buildings and factories were ordered to close every Monday to preserve dwindling energy supplies.

It was total chaos then as the Washington Post reported that “across Manila, the loss of power has left buildings without air conditioning, food spoiling in refrigerators and streets in gridlock because of non-working traffic lights. Travel agents have been unable to book airline tickets because their computers are down, and bank workers are telling customers to return to complete their transactions when the power returns.”

Now the situation is far different as programs are laid out way ahead to preserve energy security which, ironically, now includes nuclear technology and the BNPP.

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said the program will have an increasing integration of renewable energy (RE), but technology has not reached the point that it can be relied on as the main source of electricity or, technically, for base-load capacity.

The Department of Energy auctioned recently 2,000 megawatts sourced from wind, solar and geothermal to be included in the power grid.

“We need RE, but at the moment it would not be sufficient. Solar energy, for instance, remains vulnerable to weather changes, the same goes with wind sources, so they play different roles while the technology has not been perfected,” Cusi explained.

Time will come that technical perfection will be achieved to usher in a reliable and consistent source of power. However, at the moment, we still need conventional sources of power.

Right now, coal and natural gas are the more reliable sources of electricity, which needed to be maintained while RE is being developed, according to Cusi.

The situation, thus, is that the long-term programs would be the use of RE, but the growing economy would have to depend now on tested technology, including nuclear energy to bridge the point until the know-how will be enough for a full use of green sources.

Energy security, nonetheless, will not be compromised anymore as the programs are well on track.