IT HAS been six days since Typhoon Odette (Rai) pummeled Cebu and caused a province-wide blackout, impacting water and fuel supply, as well as telecommunication services.
When the eye of the storm hit Carcar City in Cebu at 10 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, Odette packed winds of 175 kilometers per hour near the center and gusts of up to 240 kilometers per hour.
The province went dark, including Visayan Electric’s franchise area: the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Talisay, Naga and the municipalities of Liloan, Consolacion, Minglanilla and San Fernando. Residents thought power would come back up quickly, but it hasn’t.
So SunStar Cebu speaks with Quennie Bronce, head of the reputation enhancement department of Visayan Electric, on the company’s power restoration efforts.
SunStar Cebu: What is taking the Visayan Electric Co. so long to restore power in Metro Cebu?
Bronce: The size and scale of the damage caused by Typhoon Odette is far beyond normal operations or even emergency situations from recent years. Many say that this typhoon is the most powerful and most damaging in the past 30 or more years. That is why, even before typhoon Odette was expected to arrive in Cebu, the AboitizPower subsidiary companies had already dispatched teams of linemen from Davao Light, Cotabato Light and Subic Enerzone to Cebu. On top of that, other distribution utilities (DU) like Meralco and Cepalco have done the same.
As of today, we have an additional 76 linemen augmenting our 308 Visayan Electric linemen working on the ground. These teams of linemen are working 24 hours a day. They also have families and friends that need their help, yet they are committed to restoring the electricity supply for the city. When you see them in your neighborhood, please extend your support, understanding and cooperation. The expertise of linemen is very specialized. It requires years of training and experience. The quality of their work has a significant impact on public safety.
SunStar Cebu: Are there enough linemen to restore power quickly?
Bronce: Due to the damage caused by Typhoon Odette in Visayas and Mindanao, there simply are not enough linemen. Distribution utilities and electric cooperatives (EC) in VisMin are all very busy trying to restore power to their respective areas. For Visayan Electric, we are fortunate to have the support of our AboitizPower affiliates, Davao Light, Cotabato Light and Subic Enerzone, plus the support from our friends in the industry. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the DUs and ECs that have sent their teams of linemen to Cebu, namely, Meralco, from Luzon, and Cepalco, from Cagayan de Oro.
SunStar Cebu: What else is delaying restoration efforts?
Bronce: The debris from fallen structures and trees hamper the mobility of our trucks and linemen. The broken or leaning poles from Visayan Electric are difficult to repair and each one takes many hours to replace. And it takes many more hours to reconnect lines to these poles and to test that these new lines work. Compound all of these tasks together, and multiply that by the hundreds of downed trees, poles and lines around the city, you will begin to get an idea of the size and scale of the work ahead of our linemen and crews.
SunStar Cebu: Have you located all the toppled electric poles?
Bronce: Visayan Electric has deployed “feeder patrollers.” These are people who survey the different areas in the franchise to check on our lines and poles. Our customer service representatives who are handling calls and social media are also getting reports from customers about collapsed or damaged poles, as well as damaged lines. With the help of all these sources of vital information, we can work with the local government, civil society and our Visayan Electric teams on the field, to address these areas.
SunStar Cebu: Whose duty is it to clear the roads?
Bronce: I think it is the responsibility of everyone to do their part in clearing debris from our roads. Residents, barangays, city engineering, and private companies must work together. We must do whatever we can to help make our roads passable, thereby allowing the safe and efficient passage of goods and services that we badly need.
However, for public safety, in case there are downed electrical lines or posts, please allow Visayan Electric to clear these for your community. You may report these types of concerns through our FB and Twitter pages, or call 230-8326. Due to the volume of requests we have logged on our system, we ask for your patience and understanding as regards the response time and schedule.”
SunStar Cebu: Do you have enough poles in your inventory to replace the ones that were toppled?
Bronce: Visayan Electric maintains a stockpile of electrical poles which are sufficient to meet the requirements of the ongoing repair works. Due to the extent of the damage sustained by our network and the continuous assessment of our repair and maintenance needs, we are making provisions to get more supplies at the earliest possible time.
SunStar Cebu: What about spare parts?
Bronce: Aside from the stockpile of materials and spare parts maintained by Visayan Electric, we also have access to the stocks of our AboitizPower subsidiary companies, Davao Light and Power, Cotabato Light, and Subic Enerzone. Beyond this, our AboitizPower generation companies, which produce and supply electricity to the grid, are also sources of raw materials and spare parts.
It is too early to tell the full material requirements of the Visayan Electric repair and restoration work. Rest assured that we are continuously and diligently collecting information from the field, assessing all current and forthcoming repairs, and preparing the resources for these. We are cautiously confident that the resources of the whole Aboitiz Group places us in a good position to meet this challenge.
SunStar Cebu: What are your target areas for energization this week and next?
Bronce: We ask for the public’s understanding and support for the priorities areas for immediate power restoration. These locations are hospitals, Metro Cebu Water District pumping stations, major telco towers, and public services delivery centers such as government offices.
There are instances when households are located on the same electrical circuit as the priority locations, like hospitals, major telco assets, and water pumping stations. In the process of resuming electricity supply to these priorities, other customers in the same circuit also get energized.
Another instance is when there are communities that are adjacent to energized circuits, which have little or no damage to their feeder lines. These may also be energized, since repair may be minimal or not needed.
SunStar Cebu: What’s the progress on your repair work?
Bronce: Our daily bulletins posted on Facebook show our statistics for a specific period. Restoration is taking longer in areas where Visayan Electric facilities sustained heavy damage such as toppled poles, downed power lines and transformers.
Thorough engineering assessments of these locations are not yet available as our focus is currently on our priority customers. That is why we are unable to provide a definitive estimate for the completion of all restoration works.
In terms of our priority areas, as of 6 p.m. December 22, we have energized 14 of 116 Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD), which according to the MCWD supply water to about 13,000 households. We have also energized five out of the 11 hospitals in the cities of Cebu and Mandaue, namely, Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, Cebu Puericulture and Maternity House, Chong Hua Hospital, Chong Hua Hospital – Mandaue and UCMed.
SunStar Cebu: Is Visayan Electric involved in any relief efforts?
Bronce: The Aboitiz Foundation Inc. and the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. mobilized relief efforts to communities in Cebu. If you would like to offer donations, details on how you can help are in the AFI and RAFI FB pages and on the Aboitiz Group FB pages. Donations can also be coursed through www.kinder.aboitiz.com.