Sunday, February 11, 2018

BWorld 184, ERC paralysis and implications for consumers

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last February 01, 2018.

Despite a significant increase in the Philippines’ power generation capacity in recent years, the country’s installed capacity and electricity production remains small compared to the ASEAN-6 and North East Asian neighbors.

For instance, its installed capacity of 21.2 gigawatt (GW) in 2016 was what Vietnam has about 10 years before. Vietnam now has twice the Philippines’ installed capacity (see table).

A reliable and stable supply of energy results in economic development.

More power plants mean more electricity generation; more electricity generate will mean more competition for power supply and hence, lower electricity prices for the consumers.

However, an unfortunate turn of events might prevent the Philippines from realizing this both in the short- and medium-term. The Ombudsman has issued a one-year suspension for four of five Commissioners of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) last Dec. 21, 2017.

The officials were charged with violation of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) in connection with the revised implementation date of the competitive selection process (CSP). The Ombudsman also said the suspended officials favored a few power supply contracts.

With only one Commissioner — Chair Devanadera — allowed to work, here are some of the serious implications and problems.

1. No deliberations and resolutions on applications for approval of power supply agreements (PSAs) and projects for transmission and distribution by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), distribution utilities, and electric cooperatives. An estimated P1.588 trillion worth of energy-related projects and capital outlays would be affected.

2. The inability to act on petitions for rate adjustments and pass-on charges; consumer complaints, violations of industry players of existing laws and regulations.

3. Non-issuance or renewal of certificates of compliance (CoC) or provisional authorities to operate power plants.

4. The inability to award procurement contracts, like the ERC meter seals and stickers being placed on electric meters of the distribution utilities, among others.

With these problems, among the solutions would be the following:

1. The President should appoint OIC Commissioners to temporarily act on behalf of the four suspended officials until the suspension order has lapsed in late December this year and the suspended officials will be back in office.

2. Despite ERC paralysis, DoE will allow or accredit players with expiring or pending CoCs to operate and trade at the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM). The required ERC approval of CoCs will resume only when there is quorum already at the Commission. DoE Secretary Cusi said that “about 26 generation companies with a total of 3,314.60 MW generating capacities have expired or have expiring CoCs in 2018… Additional new capacities of at least 720 MWs are also expected to go into commercial operation within the next few months. If not allowed to participate in the WESM, the available electricity supply in the market will be curtailed, which can result in higher market clearing prices.”

4. DoE should also be able to accredit or renew Retail Electricity Suppliers (RES) with pending or expiring licenses, until the ERC paralysis is resolved.

Several government branches and constitutional bodies must always put in mind the welfare of the consumers. The inflationary pressure of TRAIN law (higher oil prices, higher coal generation prices, among others) is already mounting.

The “vested interest” of consumers — cheaper, competitively-priced, and stable energy supplies — should prevail over vested interests of politicians and regulators. There should be more power generation companies and power plants, more electricity distributors and retailers — all competing with each other to meet the consumers’ “vested interest.”

See also:
BWorld 178, Top 8 energy news of 2017, January 14, 2018 

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