Pimentel suspects coal deals for campaign kitty

Pimentel suspects coal deals for campaign kitty

Speculations are rife that an impending power supply crisis is stage-managed to justify the jacking up of expenses in the acquisition of coal supply, enabling the government to come up with additional funds for its candidates’ campaign kitty.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.’s latest allegation came in the light of reports on expected series of power interruptions, or ”brownouts,” in Metro Manila that were brought about by coal supply problem.

Pimentel would not buy this claim, airing strong suspicion that officials of the National Power Corp. (Napocor), along with the Executive, are ”creating an emergency” situation in the power sector to justify the high-priced coal buying.

State firm National Power Corp. (Napocor) said it expected its coal requirement to rise 11 to 33 percent next year from 2007 as a big plant that had undergone repairs return online.

Napocor, the country’s largest electricity producer, expects to buy 5 million to 6 million tons of coal next year, up from 4.5 million tons in 2006, with the repair of the 1,218-megawatt Sual plant in Pangasinan province.

”It’s because of the availability of the two units of Sual plant,” Urbano Mendiola, head of the power economics division of Napocor, said.

One unit of Sual plant returned on-line on April 20, and the other unit is scheduled to resume operation on May 1, an industry source said.

The two units of Sual went off-line late last year due to technical problems, Department of Energy officials have said.

Sual is one of the generating assets sold by US firm Mirant Corp. to Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Marubeni Corp. in December. Napocor buys the feedstock of the plant and the electricity it generates.

We should start procuring our 2008 requirement starting in September this year,” Marilou de la Cruz, head of the fuel and management division of Napocor, said.

She said that of the 5 million to 6 million tons of coal needed for 2008, Napocor has so far contracted to buy about 1.2 million tons in the domestic market and 910,000 tons overseas. This means Napocor needs to buy the remaining 2.89 million to 3.89 million tons of coal overseas.

The opposition leader noted the astronomical purchase cost at $84 per metric ton, sparking speculations it could be part of a scheme to raise campaign funds.

Pimentel would not discount the possibility of this allegation citing estimates by industry insiders that coal supply normally costs only $20 to $30 per metric ton.

It’s common sense, he said, that if there is an ”overpricing” or additional costs to power producers or distributors, this would likely be passed on to the already overburdened consumers in their monthly electric bills.

Pimentel said it’s already unjustifiable that there was that emergency purchase made because the status of coal supply for the power plants is a known factor.

”Napocor should know this. Therefore, the announced emergency (which was used as reason for buying coal supply at too costly a price) may be as fake as the reported Team Unity sweep of the senatorial elections,” Pimentel added.

He insisted that the Napocor officials cannot use the so-called emergency as an alibi.

”They should have foreseen the demand. It is not an emergency. They are just creating an emergency situation so that the high prices can be justified. Pity the country,” Pimentel added.

He noted that Napocor officials themselves belied their claim that the State-run power firm had already secured its 2007 coal requirements since last year after Napocor awarded early this month a coal contract for five shipments at $84 per metric ton to an Australian supplier.

Pimentel backed a clamor for Napocor officials to render a full explanation to clarify its conflicting claims that triggered public doubts on the real cause of the recent brownouts that hit Luzon which was used as reason to justify the costly Napocor coal supply deal.

Information from: www.tribune.net.ph

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