Sunday, July 19, 2009

Electrical Power Supply in Marinduque

When I first visited Marinduque on a scouting mission, in early May, one of the things I noticed, photographed, and didn't pay any further attention to was a barge anchored at Mogpog (where ferries arrive and depart) that was largish, boxish, and labelled 'Power Barge'. This is the photo.

At the time I hadn't experienced the pleasures of Marinduque mains power supply. Basically, power goes out on average every other day. Powercuts last from a few hours, up to days at times. Longest I've experienced was about 2 days, I think there's a post in this blog complaining about that .. Also powercuts seem to occur for a number of reasons, the most common being rain, lack of rain, lightning strikes, and random. When there actually *is* power, voltage fluctuates between 190-230v, at the low points even the energy saving bulbs start to flicker.

Well, mains power doesn't come from the air, so when we paid our electricity bill this month (surprisingly high!) I enquired, and found out there is a 'schedule' for powercuts, and many times you can know a few hours beforehand. Apparently there isn't enough power to go round, and so powercuts are scheduled as a means of load shedding, possibly to ensure that everybody gets at least a little bit of electrical goodness. I do know that I never spotted a powerstation, or the telltale smoke, when driving around the island, so my naive assumption was that there is an undersea cable to some point on the mainland - not the case!

Apparently Marinduque is what the Philippines calls an 'off grid' region, and that power-barge I spotted is actually the main powerstation for the whole island! Also, it seems the power-barge is owned by the national power company, while the distribution is in the hands of a local (Marinduque ie) cooperative, and the two don't quite see eye to eye. A bit of digging around reveals that the powerbarge houses 4 Diahatsu diesel generators, generating 1.8MW each. As of January 2009, 3 were working. There are a couple of other very small on-land sites (at Boac and Torrijos, apparently) the Boac plant producing 2MW and the Torrijos plant being mostly decommissioned, but having 0.5MW capacity.

That is actually VERY little capacity for an island of this size and population, and I think goes a long way towards explaining why the whole system feels so fragile. In Marinduque's ongoing touristic development, I'd say that power generation is one of the greatest hurdles to overcome. High class resorts are dependent on power for comfort, and it's not easy to explain to your average tourist that power depends on a string and a prayer. I think power must already be high on the agenda of the local government - and any investment into this sector will be rewarded richly with tourism income.