Catanduanes Gears Up for All-Green Energy

The long craggy road on the side of a mountain leading to Barangay Obi in this third class municipality speaks volumes of how naturally rich yet economically depressed this side of the island province could be.

But a multimillion-peso investment, a 1.5-megawatt hydropower plant, down the rough village road sparks hope not just for its nearby communities but also for the entire island province.

Catanduanes Gov. Joseph Cua said the hydropower facility of the Sunwest Water and Electric Company, Inc. which is now being commissioned and will soon be inaugurated, will finally help stabilize the power situation in the province and at the same time create opportunities for investments.

“Power here is unstable mainly because the old engines (of the government-owned power generation facilities) are always in trouble and the transmission lines are defective,” Cua said.

These technical problems result in power shortage, which requires frequent load shedding and rotating brownouts, mostly affecting provincial outskirts.

“The provincial government cannot do anything because we are dependent on the NPC (National Power Corporation) and the Ficelco (the local power cooperative in the province),” Cua said.

Economic zone

Cua added that the commissioning of Suweco’s Obi hydropower plant can help realize his administration’s vision to create an economic zone for Catanduanes.

“If there is stable power supply and if we can work to make energy cheaper, we can invite business investors and create new industries. For example, we can host an ice plant and export ice if we have cheaper energy,” Cua said.

Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento said Suweco’s hydropower projects will help address the island’s power problem by providing a more stable supply of electricity.

“Hopefully, the regular brownouts in the island will be resolved and that power rates will also decrease,” Sarmiento said.

He added that power stability is one of the keys to boost investments as well as tourism and business activities in the island province.

The Obi power facility is the first of three hydropower plants on Suweco’s pipeline. The other one in Barangay Solong in San Miguel town is on the final phase of testing while the one in Barangay Paraiso in the same town is yet to be constructed.

“Altogether, the three power plants are seen to meet 100 percent of the island’s 6.5-megawatt power demand and, when this happens, Catanduanes will be the first province in the country to fully rely on green energy,” said Suweco president Jose Sylvestre Natividad.

Elizaldy S. Co, chairman of the board of the Sunwest Group of Companies, said that Suweco’s hydropower plants will help lessen the national government’s spending on missionary electrification by P80 million to P100 million yearly.

“By providing renewable energy, we also help save the environment by helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions from conventional oil-based energy sources,” Co said.

The First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc., the only power distributor in the province with over 35,000 consumers is hopeful on Suweco that it will resolve the island’s power supply deficiency.

Aurora Roxanne Tabirara said that though the 315 villages in all 12 towns are 100 percent energized, there is usually a lack of power supply because of the deficient power generation facilities.

Power deficiency

Edwin Tatel, cluster head of the Catanduanes Grid of the National Power Corp.’s Small Power Utilities Group, earlier said the maximum system demand last July was 7 megawatts during peak hours, with an off-peak demand of 5 megawatts.

Catanduanes, with its 232,000 inhabitants, has a power demand that grows 10 percent annually.

The island’s generating system is composed of two diesel power plants in Bato and Viga, the Balongbong hydropower plant, Power Barge 110, four mobile gensets rented from Monark and a 3.6-MW bunker-fuel genset operated by the private company Catanduanes Power Generation Inc.

Suweco’s P314-million hydropower plant in Barangay Solong in San Miguel has a rated capacity of 2.1 MW while its P213-million plant in Barangay Obi in Caramoran has a rated capacity of 1.5 MW

Revenues and employment

Caramoran Mayor Agnes Popa said the Suweco hydropower plant will significantly increase the revenues of her municipality of 26,000 residents and uplift its economy by opening doors for future investments.

She added that the hydropower plant helped generate hundreds of jobs for the locals, who would mainly rely on farming and fishing.

“As power becomes more stable and as we work in partnership with the private sector to improve infrastructure, I believe more investments will come. Then we can also start developing ecotourism sites in our municipality,” Popa said in a phone interview.

Source: Catanduanes Tribune - 06 October 2010