The acknowledgement by a ranking Energy department official that the unprecedented P4.15 per kilowatt hour increase in Meralco’s charge could have been the product of a collusion among power plant operators only strengthens lingering suspicions that electric consumers have long been the hapless victims of greed.
It is difficult to accept that the chain of events leading to the spike in Meralco’s rate was fortuitous, an unfortunate happenstance. First, the Malampaya gas plant is shut down for regular maintenance work.
Nothing unusual there. There are enough plants in the Luzon grid to take up the supply shortfall while Malampaya goes offline.
But then, the worst-case scenario unfolds: Nine power plants go on scheduled but extended shutdown or forced outages, draining the grid.
With its regular power suppliers unavailable, Meralco has to source its supply somewhere else to head off a serious energy shortage, particularly in Metro Manila.
The power distributor has no choice but to buy from the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM). And it just happens that WESM’s rate, which was P13.74 per kWh before the Malampaya shutdown, has soared to P33.22 per kWh.
Meralco eventually gets the green flag from the Regulatory Commission for a staggering P4.15 hike in its billing, spread out in three tranches supposedly to soften its impact on the customers.
Coincidence or collusion?
Already, outrage is building over the record rate increase, with protesters gathering outside some Meralco branches. The House of Representatives has launched an inquiry into the rate hike, and the Senate is considering its own investigation.
Testifying at the House hearing, Energy Undersecretary Raul Aguilos figured that if the power plants had stayed online, Meralco would have charged its customers just P1.58 more.
“So we were surprised when it was P4.15 because there were forced outages from other power plants. It’s possible that the power suppliers are in collusion because it would be hard to believe that they all have forced outages at the same time,” Mr. Aguilos said.
Possible? Definitely. But provable? That brings the issue to a whole new level.
Collusion implies that the plant shutdowns were premeditated to bring the desired effect: jack up electricity rates. It means that a group, not just one individual, is involved. That group can only be a cartel.
That is what Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate is driving at. “The power players are obviously operating as a cartel and Meralco is its collector,” Congressman Zarate said.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña 3rd is on the same track as Congressman Zarate. “I don’t know but we should investigate why all of a sudden many plants went down. That’s too much of a coincidence,” said Senator Osmeña, the chairman of the Senate’s energy committee. “We should find out whether there is a collusion.”
Perhaps the investigators can take a cue from ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, who had admonished the government for failing to protect the public “from the predatory behavior of a handful of power producers, who were able to dictate the price of electricity sold in the WESM.”
Now is the time to reveal the corporate make-up of the power companies and find out if they interlock in any way.
Let us not wait before the public is again blindsided by another massive power rate increase.