• DOE to end collusion probe before 2014

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    The Department of Energy (DOE) will try to fast-track the probe on the possible collusion among power suppliers that led to the highest power price hike to be implemented in the Philippine history, and targets to close the investigation by year-end.

    A day after the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) approved Manila Electric Co.’s (Meralco) plan to charge the P4.15 per kilowatt-hour (kwh) increase in the consumers’ electricity bill in three tranches, the DOE announced that it will investigate whether there was collusion among power suppliers.

    DOE Undersecretary Raul Aguilos said during a House Committee on Energy hearing on Tuesday that eight power plants in the provinces of Zambales and Batangas did several unplanned and unscheduled shutdown, which later on resulted in the power rate hike.

    Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla told The Manila Times over a phone interview that given that the agency is expecting a minimal impact if ever there was indeed a collusion, the investigation, which started on Wednesday with an “internal analysis,” should end by year-end.

    “Kung ako ang tatanungin, gusto ko matapos ito bago magtapos ang taon [If I will be the one to decide, I want this to be over before the year ends],” Petilla said, specifying that if ever a price manipulation really happened, it will only reduce the price increase by as much as 10 cents.

    “The effect of any collusion, if there is any, is really only on WESM [wholesale electricity spot market]trading, which is a small part of the overall power supply. If there is any collusion this will only be on the level of a few centavos. The bulk of the increase is really rely to diesel fuel instead of gas,” he further explained.

    Specifically, the plants involved were the 1,000-megawatt (MW) Sta. Rita and 500-MW San Lorenzo power plants owned by First Gas Power Corp. (First Gen); the 1,200-MW Ilijan plant of Kepco Philippines Corp.; the 730-MW Pagbilao power plant of Team Energy Corp.; the 600-MW Masinloc power plant of AES Philipines; and the 600-MW Calaca power plant of DMCI Holdings Inc.

    Aguilos said in a text message exchange with The Manila Times that the agency has already prepared letters to send to the owners of these power plants.

    “May mga letters na kami prepared for Sec signature. Purely tanong lang yan and their explanation. Wala akong detail. [There are already letters prepared for the signature of the Secretary. It includes pure questions and explanations. I don’t have details],” he said, adding that the letters seek quick reply.

    However, Petilla said they would only do internal analysis for now, and there’s no immediate need to formal notification to these companies.

    Consumers still has to pay the increase
    While the probe is ongoing, Meralco consumers will still have to pay for the power generation increase approved by the ERC, which is pegged at a record level.

    Meralco spokesperson Joe Zaldirraga reiterated that Meralco will implement what was approved by the ERC which is to charge the P4.15 per kwh increase in the overall electricity bill of consumers in three tranches over the four months period.

    “The investigation is independent from implementation of increase as that is ERC. The increase is justified and I have already warned everybody about this since two months ago but nobody picked it up,” Petilla added.

    Meanwhile, almost all the companies that are being dragged at the controversy have denied any involvement in the collusion.

    “I don’t know about the collusion. I have not talked with any power producer at all the whole year to discuss prices,” Isidro Consuji, DMCI Holdings president, said in a text message to The Manila Times. DMCI owns Calaca power plant 1 and 2, which are both included in the list of the plants that have said to undergo unscheduled outages.

    Consuji explained that Calaca 1 had a breakdown because of tube leak that’s why it has to undergo unscheduled shutdown, specifying that the plant is still running but it’s not that reliable because of unbalanced primary air fan. First Gen Corp., on the other hand, owns the Sta. Rita and 500-MW San Lorenzo power plants. However, a First Gen official specified that they have not done any unscheduled outages.

    “We opt not to get involved in such discussions unless needed,” Froilan Gregory Romualdez 3rd, external affairs department head of TeaM Energy, also said in a text message. Team Energy owns the 730-MW Pagbilao power plant.

    Earlier, Meralco president Oscar Reyes said they have no reason to suspect power generators.

    “I would like to think that we are all responsible in giving consumers electricity services . . . We were also conscious of not contracting too much capacity since that also finds its way into the power rates,” Reyes added.

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