Big companies going into pumped storage, run-of-river power plants

They come in small packages and they will not generate thousands of megawatts of power to fuel factories and light up residential houses. But run-of-river, pumped storage and mini-hydroelectric power plants produce enough electricity to meet the growing demand of the economy.

Hydro-electric power plants are making a comeback in the Philippine energy scene, after over two decades of inactivity. Competitive rates and incentives given by the renewable energy law, along with climate change, have made them sexy to investors again.

At least three conglomerates and several medium-sized companies have advised the Energy Department of their plan to go into hydro power.  Trans-Asia Oil and Energy Development Corp., a unit of the Phinma Group, plans to build a 300-megawatt pumped storage facility in Pililla, Rizal to harness the water expanse of Laguna de Bay. Trans-Asia’s pumped storage hydro project aims to store water on a reservoir for use as power, especially during peak hours.

A pumped-storage hydroelectric plant normally contains two reservoirs, with the upper dam holding water that is released into a lower reservoir through a turbine to generate electricity during a period of high power demand. Water is pumped back into the upper reservoir during off-peak hours or in the evening, using cheaper electricity, similar to the operation of the 300-MW Caliraya-Botocan-Kalayaan pumped storage facility of National Power Corp. in Laguna.

Conglomerate San Miguel Corp. is building a similar plant in Aklan. The Energy Department has just approved the application of Strategic Power Development Corp., a wholly-owned unit of SMC Global Power Corp., to build a 200-megawatt pumped storage hydro project.

Strategic Power also has pending applications for hydro service contracts to build the 20-MW West Upper San Roque Pumped Storage and 10-MW East Upper San Roque Pumped Storage in Pangasinan. San Miguel’s interest in the renewable hydro energy dates back to 2009, when  Strategic Power won the contract to manage the output of the 345-MW San Roque multipurpose hydroelectric power plant in Pangasinan.

Mini-hydros back in vogue

First Gen Corp. of the Lopez Group,  the leading clean and renewable energy company in the Philippines with an installed capacity of close to 3,000 MW, has also taken interest in run-of-river, or mini-hydro projects in Mindanao.

Its unit, First Gen Mindanao Hydro Power Corp., has received the go-signal from the Energy Department to proceed with the construction of five hydropower projects with a combined capacity of 80 MW to add to its generation portfolio that feeds on indigenous fuels such as natural gas, water and geothermal steam.

The projects include the 8-MW Tumalaong, 8-MW Bubunawan (costing $100 million)  and 20-MW Tagoloan hydro plants in Bukidnon, and the 14-MW Cabadbaran ($40 million) and 30-MW Puyo ($120 million) stations in Agusan del Norte.

QuadRiver Energy Corp., a unit of Ayala Corp., meanwhile, is pursuing Tinoc 2 and Tinoc 3 hydro projects in Ifugao with a combined capacity of 19 MW.

Run-of-river electricity uses little or no storage facility, unlike hydro-electric dams which may submerge town-sized areas to impound the water. Thus, massive flooding on the upper part of a river will not occur nor displace people living  near the water system.

Run-of-river power is ideal for rivers or streams with a minimum flow or those regulated by a much larger reservoir upstream.

Taming Marikina River

A company partly owned by German investors, meanwhile, has received eight renewable service contracts to put up small hydro-power projects along Marikina River and its tributaries.

Hydrotec Renewables Inc. is investing as much as P2.7 billion to build the run-of-river projects with a combined capacity of up to 30 megawatts. The company plans to establish the  mini hydro projects in Rodriguez City (Sitio Wawa, San Isidro and San Jose), San Mateo, Marikina City (Tumana and Nangka 4) and Antipolo City (Hinulugang Taktak and Nangka 1).

Hannes Mueller, Hydrotec director, said the hydro projects would contribute environment-friendly and clean energy to the Luzon grid or the Manila Electric Co. franchise area. He said the projects would also significantly contribute to a much more efficient flood control along the Marikina river system.

Hydrotec plans to complete all eight projects by 2016, with the construction period for each plant  estimated at six to eight months.

“The design of our hydros will reduce flood events along Marikina River, Metro Manila and Laguna de Bay and save billions of pesos of costs, which had to be spent yearly by the provincial and national government for any consequences resulting out of floods,” says Mueller.

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