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Meralco eyes US grant to look into small nuclear reactors

POWER distributor Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) is applying for a grant from the United States to do a feasibility study on introducing nuclear energy in the Philippines, its top official said.

“We are applying [for] a grant from USTDA (United States Trade and Development Agency) to do a feasibility study for SMRs (small modular reactors). We’re looking into nuclear,” Ray C. Espinosa, Meralco president and chief executive officer, told reporters.

Mr. Espinosa said the company is looking at nuclear energy after the pronouncement of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to look into its inclusion in the country’s energy mix for energy security.

Earlier, the Department of Energy (DoE) estimated a timeline of 10 years before the country can incorporate nuclear into the mix. It is considering adopting nuclear as a reliable and stable source of energy that will address the Philippines’ energy supply issues.

This week alone, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) placed the Luzon and Visayas electricity grids under yellow and red alerts as power reserves thinned when several power plants went into forced outages.

For Meralco, the country’s largest electricity distributor, the search for alternative sources of energy has become crucial as the dry season usually results in a surge in power demand.

Jose Ronald V. Valles, Meralco’s first vice-president and head of its regulatory management, gave an assurance that supply is enough for next year’s summer months.

“The Meralco franchise area is safe during summer months. The question of whether the franchise area is safe or not depends on whether there is enough capacity [for] the grid. In Meralco, we have enough supply,” he said on Monday.

Supply sufficiency is possible for as long transmission lines and power plants are available, Mr. Espinosa said.

“The only problem is if outside our franchise area one of the power plants trips, then supply will fall short then the system operator would direct us to [do] manual load dropping (MLD) usually our share of MLD is 70%,” he said.

MLD or rotating power interruptions are implemented to distribute the limited power supply.

NGCP, the system operator, declares yellow alerts when the power supply available to the grid falls below a designated safety threshold. If the supply-demand balance deteriorates further, a red alert is declared, warning consumers of rolling brownouts.

When a red alert is declared, NGCP instructs Meralco to implement MLD.

“Power supply is still tight for next year, but [at] Meralco, we are going to enter into [a] contract for summer months, at least five months covered to make sure that our franchise area has sufficient power,” Mr. Espinosa said.

For now, Meralco is trying to secure two emergency power supply agreements or EPSAs to cover the expected demand in the dry months.

“We have a separate EPSAs that we are trying to procure for 180 megawatts (MW) peaking and 300 MW baseload, but these two EPSAs are still pending for DoE’s approval,” Mr. Valles said.

Meralco’s controlling stakeholder, Beacon Electric Asset Holdings, Inc., is partly owned by PLDT, Inc. Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has an interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Ashley Erika O. Jose

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