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Antitrust body to check collusion claims vs power firms

/ 05:04 AM April 23, 2019

The country’s antitrust body wants to see if power-generation companies colluded to shut down their power plants that led to brownouts in Luzon, a move which could have contributed to higher electricity bills.

The Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) said in a statement on Monday that it was looking into allegations of collusion or abuse of dominance amid a series of power plants shutting down.

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The issue developed after the Luzon power grid was put on red alert status for three consecutive days earlier this month after a number of power plants had unplanned outages. A red alert notice meant the projected demand exceeded supply.

Lawmakers recently flagged this, accusing without dropping names that this might be due to collusion among industry players.

“The PCC shall assess whether the recent power plants’ outages are manipulated to increase electricity prices or are valid unplanned breakdowns that affect supply conditions,” the PCC statement read.

Asked for clarification, PCC Chair Arsenio Balisacan said that this did not necessarily mean that an investigation was already underway. Rather, the watchdog was still looking if this merited a probe.

“We look forward to the report that DOE [Department of Energy] will send us as it will help with our assessment,” he said in a phone message.

The competition watchdog warned power-generation companies from engaging in anticompetitive or collusive behavior, which is punishable by the competition law with fines of up to P250 million and imprisonment of responsible officers of up to seven years.

As of now, PCC has not yet disclosed further information about the probe such as the specific companies under investigation.

Nevertheless, retail price has already gone up. Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), the biggest power distribution company in the country, increased its price for the third month in a row this April.

Meralco said in a previous statement that the month’s hike meant an increase in the bill of about P13 for a typical residential customer that consumes 200 kilowatt-hour a month.

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PCC said it welcomed the call of the DOE for the technical reports or audits involving the concerned power plants and their control rooms as well any lead or information from the public or experts in the field.

While the PCC has primary and original jurisdiction over competition concerns, the antitrust commission said it acknowledged the technical expertise and regulatory functions of the DOE and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) in overseeing the power industry.

The PCC said it wanted to “advance” its previous discussions with DOE and ERC toward a Memorandum of Agreement in order to facilitate market competition and investigations in the power sector. —ROY STEPHEN C. CANIVEL

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