Chaos in Manila as power outages bite

PARALYSING power outages struck the Philippine capital for the second day in a row yesterday, snarling traffic and plunging office towers into darkness.

The so-called brownouts, lasting up to six hours, were rotated around Manila and worst of all, hit with no advance warning from the National Power Corporation (Napocor).

A hotel executive said: ''It's a crisis. We have no air conditioning, almost no lights and even the phone system is going down.'' Officials at Napocor blamed the outages on a breakdown at the 300-megawatt Calaca power plant, which has been idle since Saturday.

The breakdown also caused rare weekend brownouts.

Energy Secretary Mr Delfin Lazaro said that by summer, the outages will last six hours a day, with the worst period occurring in May when the power deficit will be 560 megawatts.

With the national capital region accounting for half of the nation's manufacturing output, the outages have dealt a serious blow to the economic revitalisation programme of President Mr Fidel Ramos. Last year, the outages cost industries about US$1 billion (HK$7.73 billion).

The Government had pledged to eliminate the brownouts by next September, but critics said the target date is unrealistic.

In an unusual move, the newly created Energy Department is urging large businesses and industries to conserve power at the national grid by running their generators outside brownout periods. Mr Lazaro said up to 140 megawatts of power could be conserved this way.

Several businesses in the Makati business district are frantically installing their own large power generation systems in anticipation of worsening summer brownouts.