A bicameral conference committee composed of lawmakers from the Senate and the House of Representatives has approved a bill establishing a mechanism that will allow for the responsive maintenance and rehabilitation of transmission, sub-transmission, and distribution lines to ensure the uninterrupted conveyance of electricity from power plants to consumers.
Senator Win Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and primary author and sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said the Anti-Obstruction of Power Lines Act is the fifth measure that the Bicameral Conference Committee on Energy has approved during the 17th Congress.
“I think this is the most number of bills that the Energy Committee has passed in recent memory, and I would like to thank our colleagues in the House,” Gatchalian said. “Hindi po mangyayari ito kung the House and the Senate will not work together.”
The reconciled version of the bill provides that the power line corridor – which includes the land beneath, the air spaces surrounding, and the area traversed by power lines, including its horizontal, vertical, and similar clearance requirements – shall, at all times, be kept clear and free from any obstructions, dangerous structures, hazardous activities, or any similar circumstances that impede the continuous flow of electricity.
The Anti-Obstruction of Power Lines Act will prohibit the planting of tall growing plants, the construction of hazardous improvements, and the conduct of any hazardous activities within the power line corridor.
It also outlines the duties and responsibilities of power line owners and operators in the prevention and removal of disturbances or obstructions to the power lines, whether located on public or private property.
The bill authorizes power line owners and operators to seek the assistance of local government officials, the Philippine National Police, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the discharge of their duties. It also provides penalties for persons found guilty of committing any of the prohibited acts specified under SBN 2098.
Recognizing the continuous conveyance of electricity as a matter of national security and as a central element to economic development, Gatchalian said the measure will ensure that the conveyance of electricity from the power generating plants all the way to the end users, which includes consumers, businesses, and other vital installations in the country, will be uninterrupted.
Citing data from the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), Gatchalian pointed out that the country experienced 168 instances of power outages in 2018 due to right of way issues with the NGCP lines, totaling 1,426.11 hours. This is an almost three-fold increase compared to the total duration of blackouts in 2017, when the country registered 236 instances or 565.71 hours of power outages. In 2016, the NGCP reported a total of 205 blackouts or a total of just 396.11 hours.
There have also been many instances when obstructions such as plants were the primary culprits behind a number of power outages, according to Gatchalian.
He cited as an example the power outage that crippled the Zamboanga Peninsula in September 2016, when banana trees that were intentionally and maliciously planted within the power line corridor caused a line-to-ground fault that tripped high voltage lines. This led to a blackout across the entire Zamboanga Peninsula, including areas served by distribution utilities Zamsureco I, Zamsureco II, Zaneco, Zamcelco, Moelci I, Moelci II, and parts of Laneco.
For Gatchalian, the approval of the “Anti-Obstruction of Power Lines Act of 2018” is quite timely as it coincides with the onset of the rainy season, when powerful typhoons batter the country.
“If there is to be any energy-related lesson to be learned from the many typhoons that have struck our country, it is that keeping power line corridors clear and free from any obstruction or potential debris will minimize the risk of power lines getting damaged during natural calamities,” Gatchalian said. “This, in turn, would lessen the time it would take to repair damaged lines and restore power to affected areas.”