I love the headline in the Philippine Inquirer:

‘Nat’l calamity’ if there’s no power for Pacman fight

MANILA, Philippines—As Filipinos nationwide prepare to watch the Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey match on Sunday, the energy sector is scrambling to ensure that there will be enough power to keep television sets, computers and cinema screens running up to the very last round.

As of Friday, power supply in all three main grids of the country remained unstable….

Yes, the treasure of the Philippines, Manny Paquiao, is fighting again on Sunday morning (meaning that early Mass will be packed, and the 11 am mass will be quick, so folks can watch the fight).

There are priorities, you know.

Right now, thanks to ElNino, we are in a drought.

This is bad for those of us who grow rice, since it means that the irrigation dam water is low and we might run out of water before we harvest. To make things worse, the last harvest was lost by many local farmers due to the twin typhoons and flooding last fall at harvest time.

The really bad news is that we get a lot of our electricity from clean, green hydroelectric power (about 20% nationwide), and the water in those dams are low also. Rolling brownouts are common at this time of the year, before the monsoon hits in late May to replentish the dams, but this year has been especially dry, and brownouts have started early, and there is a worry that the water levels will be so low that some power plants will have to shut down completely for lack of water.

The province that is being hit the worst is Mindanao, in the south. The government is scrambling to release funds to buy smaller generators (presumably that use diesel) to supplement things, but the newspapers are worried that corruption will divert some of the funding into the pockets of local politicians, not to mention that some barangays and towns who tend to vote the wrong way will find they have more than their share of brownouts.

How bad is it? Well, it’s so bad that some are starting to wonder if we need some clean, green nuclear power plants.

The Philippines has a strong “green” movement that would oppose such a plant, but the main reason that nuclear power is unpopular is that back in the 1970’s, Marcos built a huge nuclear power plant west of here in Bataan…he made quite a bit from it (i.e. bribes/diversion of funds) but it was never opened, because after building it, it was found to have been built with a lot of defects, and more importantly, it was found to sit on a major earthquake fault.

Another big source of “green” energy in the Philippines is geothermal, which supplies over 20 percent of power.

from  OECD/IEA

Red is geothermal, wind, or solar energy

Dark Blue is hydroelectric, green is natural gas, and other colors are coal/diesel.

The Philippines is not the only country facing major problems from the “El Nino”, which causes periodic drought.

A NationalGeographic story about the drought causing lower water levels in Venezuela notes:

(That country) gets around 68 percent of its power from hydroelectricity, Reuters reported. The droughts spurred Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to declare an energy emergency in February.

Venezuela, of course, is rich in oil resources. But the dirty little secret is that just having oil is no good: You have to be able to refine the oil, and then have plants that can turn the diesel or natural gas into electricity.

So the next time you hear about renewable energy, remember: every type of energy production has problems.

And the bad news is that poor people are not willing to live like their ancestors, plowing with water buffalo, and carrying loads on their backs to the market because they lack cars or motorcycles.

So in these days when even small villages have electricity and families pool their earnings to buy a used Korean TV and put up a 30 foot antenna, the government knows that not allowing a brownout during the Packman’s fight tomorrow is a priority.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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