Zamboanga power coop executive removed

The Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper - - News -

ZAMBOANGA CITY – The National Electrification Administration has approved the termination of the general manager of the debt- ridden Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative following a resolution by the cooperative’s board members due to various reasons.

George Ledesma, who assumed as general manager two years ago, has been replaced by Ed Ancheta in an acting capacity. Ledesma has been widely criticized for his failure to address the worsening power situation here and the ballooning debts of the cooperative which stands to more than P1.4 billion.

The board members of the cooperative are Omar Sahi, Rodolfo Lim, Victor Liozo, Ernesto Perez, Gammar Hassan, Wilhemino Bazan, Efren Famindalan, Oscar Tiu, Michael dela Serna and Edgar Lim.

Since last year, Zamboanga City has been suffering from severe power curtailment – as much as 6 hours a day and at worst, 8 hours or more. And local electric cooperative officials quickly blamed the lack of electricity to the onset of El Nino and the dry season, and maintenance shutdown of hydro and coal-fired power plants in Mindanao for the power crisis.

Zamboanga City needs at least 80 megawatts of electricity. The National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms or NASECOR said it wanted Ledesma to answer allegations against him. Ramon Follosco, local head of the NASECOR, alleged that under Ledesma's rule, the power cooperative spent more than the amount allowed by the NEA and this included excess "utilization" of funds for employees' benefits - P58 million; sundries - P23.5 million and cash for "sinking" funds - P139.6 million, among others.

"We, the NASECOREZamboanga City Chapter, strongly manifest our extreme disappointment over the dismal and poor performance of Mr George Ledesma as NEA's sppointed general manager of the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative since November 2013," Follosco wrote in one of his letters to NEA.

He said since Ledesma's assumption, Zamboanga was beset by up to 4 hours of daily power outages and increase in system's loss by as much as 21%.

Ledesma has denied allegations against him, saying, the coop's huge debts was incurred during the past administrations. "As as matter of fact, all our (account) payable are in current status. The huge debts was due to past administrations," he said.

The long hours of blackout are affecting not only many business establishments, but also hundreds of thousands of households here and there is no tangible solution in sight, not until 2016 when the proposed 100megawatt coal-fired power plant of the Alsons Power Holdings begins operations in the village of Talisayan. But villagers have been opposing the establishment of the coalfired power plant in the village due to the serious health hazards this pose to humans and animals.

And Alsons have not started building its facility and cited many reasons for the alarming delay – from the failed rebellion in 2013 to the P900- million enhancement program it wanted from the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative – in the construction of the 100 megawatt coal-fired power plant, although it finished another coal-fired power plant in Sarangani province.

Mindanao has been hit by repeated power crises in the past and nothing has been done by the government except to promote the use of coalfired power plants – but this too, comes with a price and that translates to huge electric bills and environmental pollutions.

The same problem occurred in 2013 when the region suffered to as much as 14 hours of blackout.

And the Zamboanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the acute power shortage has affected many business establishments here – big and small – and continues to threaten the vibrant economy.

“Sixty hours of power interruptions last March is bad for business. It increases our cost of operation and decreased the productivity of everyone, public and private offices. Even small businesses like Internet shops, beauty parlors and restaurants. No power, no business,” Edwin To, president of the local business chamber, told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

He said business owners who can afford the use of power generators were also complaining because it adds up to the cost of running their establishment. “For those with generator, power costs are double. The Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative charges P8 per kilowatt hour while diesel generator is P18-P20 per kilowatt hour. Even if you have a generator, it’s not cheap to operate,” To said.

He also said that the entry of big business establishments in Zamboanga city will further affect the current power situation if the local electric cooperative cannot provide additional supply into the grid. “And this means more and longer power interruptions. Zamboanga chamber is always concern with the welfare of the entire city. We see it in a macro- perspective. We oversee the interest of the businesses and the people in the community,” To said.

At least 2 new malls have opened this year in Zamboanga – City Mall and Yubenco Tetuan – and another, the KCC Mall de Zamboanga, is expected to open in December. And all these are on top of other smaller shops and establishments.

The Department of Energy said the acute power shortage is expected to improve by 2017, and in the meantime, To said the Aquino government should push for the so- called Interruptible Load Program or ILP.

“In the meantime, the government should push for the ILP implementing rules and regulations and make it attractive for commerc ia l establishments with excess power to join. Manage the demand side and advise users to conserve energy,” said To, who is also the president of Budgetwise supermarket, one of the biggest in Zamboanga; and the chairman of the modern Ciudad Medical Zamboanga.

According to the Retail Electricity Suppliers Association, ILP – a program established by the Department of Energy and the Energy Regulatory Commission aims to help mitigate the energy supply deficiency in the country until new capacities become available on the grid.

Companies with stand- by generation capacities who participate in the ILP will be compensated under this program should they use their own generating facilities during instances of power supply deficit.

But companies that will participate in the ILP will be asked by the distribution utility to “deload” for particular hours in a day when the power supply in the grid will not be enough for the power demand. “De-loading” will mean having to run its embedded stand- by generation sets to provide for its own electricity requirements.

For Pedro Rufo Soliven, regional governor of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Western Mindanao, said everybody must do their share in helping the government find a solution to the acute power crisis.

Soliven, former president of the Zamboanga City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “We would like to be part of the solution and we are working hand- in- hand with the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative and the Local government of Zamboanga and look for solution to address this problem of power curtailment.”

“And we are also looking for short term and long term solutions on how we can really solve immediately the lack of electricity supply in the city and be able really to come up with something to address the ( power) demand of the city.”

The cost of the power shortage to the businesses and Zamboanga City’s economy is not readily available.

Linemen of the Zamboanga City Electric Cooperative work on a high-tension electrical wire without safety helmet, leather or rubber gloves and safety shoes. (Mindanao Examiner File Photo)

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