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Power struggle

Earlier this week the entire cities of Silay and Talisay, which make up a significant chunk of the supposedly progressive Metro Bacolod area of this island, were plunged into an unscheduled power blackout that lasted more than 12 hours.

I neither know nor care who is to blame, whether it was another horrible failure of the part of the distribution utility Ceneco, or the transmission infrastructure of the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines. All that matters is that two entire cities of a metropolitan area didn’t have power from approximately 4pm to 5:30am the following day and whoever was responsible obviously didn’t have a ready remedy for the problem. With neither a backup plan nor a redundancy in the system that could’ve allowed them to deal with such situations, the people in charge of our electricity were exposed as utterly powerless once again.

The final update I saw on the Ceneco FB page, as of 7:58pm that fateful night was that they were trying to temporarily connect us to the Noneco grid as a stopgap measure. That attempt either failed or took an inordinate amount of time to pull off because the power only came back 8.5 hours after that update, just as dawn was breaking.

My household was fortunate because we have a batter-based back up system, which could power a few LED bulbs and more importantly, the wifi network. I didn’t think it could last through the night, but because we went on maximum power saving mode when power was still out by 7pm and the prognosis looked dire. At least now I know that with minimum lights on and no electric fans, our 100-ampere-hour battery can somehow barely manage to survive a 12-hour blackout. Another thing we were lucky with was our big windows that provide natural ventilation, which combined with the relatively cool night, allowed us to sleep through the night comfortably even without electric fans. But that was the exception to the rule and it is probably safe to say that was a terrible night for a few hundred thousand people who have to pay their bills on time or be mercilessly disconnected by a power company that cannot even deliver reliable and quality service.

If you come to think of it, I don’t think this power failure can be blamed on the linemen, who probably had to risk life and limb throughout the long, dark night and render oodles of OT trying to rectify the problem that shouldn’t be that devastating if only they had a better system to work with.

A massive 12-hour blackout affecting two entire cities can be only explained by a grid that has no redundancies built in due to terribly inefficient design, which should be a mortal sin during this digital age, where most systems are designed with redundancies and fail safes as primary considerations.

We already know how bad the grid is because of the scheduled 8-hour “maintenance” blackouts that affect large swathes of territory when only a small percentage of the affected areas need work. This has been happening for decades already yet for us consumers, it feels like Ceneco has done absolutely nothing about it, aside from giving the usual advance warnings. 

It’s already 2022. Why is their distribution infrastructure still so sucky? Technology has improved by leaps and bounds and yet it feels like our friends at Ceneco have not yet been able to discover upgrades that could be applied to make blackouts less devastating. We are realistic enough to admit that we do not expect a world of zero blackouts, but why can’t they at least improve the grid so smaller areas are isolated and only hundreds will be affected, instead of hundreds of thousands every time they have a problem or need to trim some trees?

With regard to this most recent multi-hour power failure that plunged a few hundred thousand consumers into darkness and sweaty pajamas, why is substation redundancy so difficult to achieve? Is the money that we pay for electricity not enough for them to plan and fund upgrades that would make their service better and more reliable? Should we launch an investigation to see if people in the power company get sales commissions from genset vendors?

The trouble with Ceneco is that we know that there are other power companies that have done a better job at providing quality and reliable services. If regular widespread and extended power failures are actually the exemption rather than the rule for the rest of the world, what is stopping our power company from stepping up? Is it a technology problem? A financial problem? A manpower problem? Or is it a management problem? Something is terribly wrong and yet it feels like nobody over there feels any urgency to make things right.*

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