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Groups divided on how to deal with power crisis

Critics balk at giving gov’t emergency powers

Various groups are at loggerheads on whether the government should declare a power crisis.

While a number of trade groups are pushing for emergency powers that will enable government to build its own power plant if it wants to, others have balked at the prospect of giving government emergency powers, suggesting instead to impose more stringent regulation of the industry.

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One direction pushed by government critics is renationalization. Bayan Muna in a statement suggested tighter regulation of utilities.

“It is very dangerous to grant emergency powers to anyone with a dictatorial propensity like President Aquino,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, citing how the chief executive usurped Congress’ power of the purse and the threat he allegedly made when the Supreme Court declared the Disbursement Acceleration Program unconstitutional.

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Colmenares, who is also the senior deputy minority leader in the House of Representatives, said Malacañang should instead prohibit the sale of what is left of the government’s energy assets and infuse capital to rehabilitate and increase the capacity of these plants.

The lawmaker also urged the Palace to:

Order the Department of Energy to use some P175 billion in Malamapaya funds to construct power plants, especially those using renewable energy;

Abolish the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market and order the distribution utilities to gradually contract all of their requirements;

Buy back the power plants sold to the private sector under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (Epira);

Reform the electric cooperatives, eradicate corruption and inefficiency while increasing public participation in the distribution utilities’ decision-making body;

Scrap the policy of deregulation and eliminate the automatic pass through provisions of generation, transmission and other charges; and,

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Require public notification and hearing before any power rate increase.

These are just some of the steps that must be taken to address the power crisis and bring about affordable electricity, Colmenares said.

The lawmaker added that medi-um- and long-term measures must be put in place so that the government would no longer rely on “stopgap measures like the interruptible load program,” which could result in further power rate increases.

On the other hand, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, and the Federation of Philippine Industries have all called for the declaration of a power crisis.

Donald Dee, PCCI vice chair, said in a text message that the declaration should have been done earlier.

“We are not sure when the new plants will actually go online. Also, even if they do go online as scheduled, we need new plants to ensure energy sufficiency,” Dee said.

Such proposals, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla said, are under consideration but may not be decided upon until around September.

First, Petilla said, the government and the power sector are addressing more immediate concerns such as reenergizing areas rendered without electricity due to typhoon damage on power facilities and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the Makati Business Club has urged the government to fully implement the Epira, diligently monitor “anti-competitive behavior” and further encourage a competitive market with the privatization of the remaining government power assets and contracts by state-owned Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM) Corp.

MBC also suggested that, to help distribution utilities plan ahead, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines, as system operator, should publish on a regular basis the annual planned outages of power plants.

“This list should also be reviewed by the ERC (Energy Regulatory Commission) in anticipation of potential shortages in power supply, improve transparency, and avoid providing unfair advantages,” MBC said.

The business group also said the National Transmission Company (Transco) should revisit the Transmission Development Plan and accelerate the implementation of the Leyte-Mindanao underground cable interconnection. Transco should also ensure that the grid could accommodate all the required new capacity for the next five years, MBC said.

“We implore the government to act decisively and with urgency toward the full implementation of Epira. This would be in the best interest of the Philippines as it protects the national patrimony and consumers by ensuring that competitive market forces continue to prevail. A lack of consistency in policy and implementation will discourage future investment in power generation, exacerbating projected power shortages,” MBC said.

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