SUWECO Hydropower To End Daily Brownouts

Hounded by daily power outages for years, residents and businessmen in Catanduanes are pinning their hopes on two new hydropower plants of the Sunwest Water and Electric Co., Inc. to provide reliable power beginning this month.

The two multi-million-peso power facilities owned by SUWECO, an an affiliate of the Sunwest Group of Companies which is chaired by Bicolano businessman Elizaldy S. Co, will be switched on this month in the towns of San Miguel and Caramoran to supply half of the island’s energy demand of 6.5 megawatts.

The company’s P314-million hydropower plant in Solong, San Miguel, has a rated capacity of 2.1 megawatts and its P213-million plant in Hitoma, Caramoran has a rated capacity of 1.5 megawatts.

Jose Sylvestre Natividad, SUWECO president, said these facilities will help alleviate the decade-long power problem in Catanduanes.

He said the energy demand in the island province is 6.5 megawatts and grows 10 percent annually. SUWECO’s Solong and Hitoma projects will supply 3.6 megawatts or half of the current demand.

Agnes Doblon, principal of the Paraiso Elementary School in San Miguel town, said the power outages affect the learning environment of the students.

She said whenever brownouts occur, teachers and students would grope in the dark but they could not cancel classes or the students will be left behind.

"For the past two years, we didn’t have electricity during our graduation rites. Our students marched without music. We called out names of the graduates without a sound system," Doblon told the media who were covering Sunwest’s distribution of bags and educational supplies last July 22. It was also brownout that same day.

The current main power sources in Catanduanes are the 1.8-megawatt Balombong mini hydropower plant and the 2.2-megawatt Marinawa diesel plant.

Floro Barrameda, administrative officer of SUWECO in Catanduanes, said the government owned Balombong hydropower plant could only generate 20 percent to 30 percent of electricity due to lack of water supply. Power suppliers resorted to using diesel-run generators to bridge the supply gap.

San Miguel Vice Mayor Mary Ann Teves said the hydropower facilities will be a key to development in their fifth class municipality.

"We are thankful because the SUWECO power plant will not only provide a stable supply of electricity, it could also bring revenues to our town. Soon, when power is stable, more investments will come. We will no longer be a sleepy town," Teves said.

Natividad said that since SUWECO produces renewable energy, it will help save the environment and mitigate the impacts of climate of change.

Sunwest has other existing energy projects in the provinces of Antique and Cagayan and provides access to hydro-electrical power, which will reduce the country’s dependence on imported fossil fuel.

In Solong, the company built a dam 2.3 meters deep and 29 meters wide in the village high ands. Civil engineer Felix Dacasin said the power plant will tap the 10-kilometer Solong River as its water source.

He said the dam is a potent source of energy because it is built on high elevation, which will allow stronger water pressure for more energy to be generated.

The government has called for individual power producers or private investors, who would venture into renewable energy production through hydro-electric, windmill, solar, and other means.

In 2012, another hydropower plant with a rated capacity of 2.4 megawatts will be opened in the villages of Progreso and Paraiso in San Miguel, Catanduanes.

Ahead of the commissioning of its power plants, SUWECO launched community projects benefiting public schools in the towns of San Miguel and Caramoran. Last month, the Sunwest Care Foundation distributed bags and school supplies to 1,456 schoolchildren in six public schools. Public school administrators also appealed for further help in the reconstruction of classrooms and improvement of school facilities.

Gemina Quiros, Corporate Social Responsibility director of the Sunwest group, said the foundation have also started organizing women in the villages to train them in twine-making and bag-weaving.

Anelyn Sumanga, Sunwest Care managing director, said the foundation is also providing seed capital and will help the locals find niche markets for their products so they will have alternative livelihood aside from planting abaca.

Sumanga added that the foundation will provide scholarship grants to poor but deserving students who want to finish high school and college.

Source: Catanduanes Tribune - 12 August 2010