“If, like in 2013, plants were shut down deliberately and power companies colluded among themselves to jack up the cost of power, the consumers have to guard against that.” — POWER (People Opposed to unwarranted Power Rate)
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Amid renewed warnings of the Department of Energy of supposed impending power shortage this summer, the Senate, and much earlier the lower House, approved a joint resolution allowing President Benigno Aquino III to address the supposed power shortage.
Based on the statement issued by the Senate, the emergency powers authorize the president to address some estimated 300MW foreseen shortfall in energy when demand peaks on the hottest days of summer (at 9,000 megawatts [MW]). It said the average demand is 8,700MW.
Senator Serge Osmeña, chair of the Committee on Energy and the sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 12, echoed the DOE warning that such peak demand “guarantees a brownout.” Adding to that projected shortfall, Osmeña said, “a certain number of power plant break down while some go on scheduled maintenance because no power plant could operate continuously the entire year.”
Groups pointing to the need instead for the government to manage well the scheduled maintenance shutdowns, rather than resorting to emergency crisis, warned that the emergency powers may be abused.
Emergency power amid series of unresolved wrongdoings
Osmeña said the resolution proposed “a more efficient way to solve the power crisis in a much cheaper way” than what the executive department earlier recommended. The executive department had proposed to rent costly generators.
In the Senate-approved resolution approving emergency powers for Aquino, they adopted the House-proposed ILP, where they will make it mandatory for self-generating facilities to participate in the Interruptible Load Program (ILP). The earlier versions of Senate‘s emergency powers did not have a provision for ILP.
Assuming the supposed power shortfall indeed materialized come summer months, addressing it via ILP is estimated to cost consumers P7 to P8 per kilowatt an hour against the P35 per kilowatt an hour under a Department of Energy proposal to lease 300 MW in gensets at a cost of P6 billion for two years or P10 million per MW.
With big companies forced to use their gensets instead, up to 1,400 megawatts may be deloaded for a few peak hours on certain days, said Osmeña.
Who will pay for the big companies’ use of their gensets under the ILP? The current approved versions of emergency powers authorize the president to tap the Malampaya funds for that.
“I hope we will not get to the point that they will need the big companies for ILP,” Teddy Casiño, spokesman of POWER, told Bulatlat.com. Power and the Makabayan bloc of lawmakers in Congress have always maintained there is enough energy to cover all needs so far.
Until now, against dire warnings of the DOE of synchronized plant shutdowns amid peak demand in summer, “In truth, there is enough capacity to cover the supposed shortfall in the energy supply for summer 2015,” Makabayan Rep. Carlos Zarate said in a statement this week, basing his conclusions from the energy capacity report of the DoE itself.
Casiño of POWER worries that consumers will once again be made to pay for “forced outages,” similar to what happened in December 2013 when power plants shut down forcing the increase in cost of generated power.
“If, like in 2013, plants were shut down deliberately and power companies colluded among themselves to jack up the cost of power, the consumers have to guard against that,” Casiño said.
He said a repeat of such collusion is possible and that it is sad that until today, more than a year since it happened, there is still no final ruling about that collusion from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) or the Supreme Court (SC).
POWER urged the public to be vigilant about the scheduled plant shutdowns, saying it is only in the latter half of this month that the energy needs will be critical because of the scheduled plant shutdown.
Deeper reasons not being attended to
Casiño of POWER said the bigger reason why Filipinos continue to be subject to the whims and pricing of power companies is the fact that the government has not been building power plants. This forces the country to depend on private companies operating power plants, transmitting the generated power and distributing it to end-consumers.
While the government is not yet reversing the privatization trend in the power industry, the POWER alliance through Casiño is urging the public to be vigilant and to push the DoE and ERC to do their job. Citing the dubious maintenance shutdowns of the past, and the danger that with the emergency power, that “collusion” may happen again resulting in the raiding of Malampaya funds, Casiño urged for more regulation.
“The cost of generated power should no longer be automatically increased on the say so of private power companies, but rather, should be scrutinized and should pass through public bidding,” Casiño said.
POWER also encouraged the public to be vigilant in the finalization of the House-approved and Senate-approved resolutions granting emergency powers to the president.
Up for consolidation in a bicameral committee hearings are the issues of whether the President is to be given a blanket authority or if exemptions would be granted power companies from existing laws such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. The House version is giving the president all that; the Senate version claims it did not.