LAST Tuesday, the House Committee on Energy headed by Rep. Rey Umali lost its backbone and gave way to the wishes of the Executive to grant President Aquino emergency powers. House Joint Resolution 21 was passed with one negative vote to supposedly address a lack of power in 2015.
The decision was surprising since it appears that Sec. Jericho Petilla failed to present a convincing argument to support his doomsday scenario that there will be a massive shortage in power next year. The committee correctly removed Petilla’s request for 6-12 billion pesos to rent or to buy modular generating sets from the resolution.
POWER or the People Opposed to unWarranted Electricity Rates presented a position paper at the hearing prior to the approval of the majority.
Former congressman Teddy Casino of POWER told the committee that the request of Petilla was “unecessary, expensive and dangerous for consumers and taxpayers.”
Teddy also reiterated POWER’s revised computation that shows only net reserve deficits of 21 and 31 MW in the first and second weeks of April, respectively, and that there will actually be positive net reserves of 43 and 34 MW. POWER pointed out that there would be only one week in March where the net reserves will be in a deficit of 4 MW.
The resolution also grants President Aquino to implement the Interruptible Load Program (ILP) that allows the use of private generation capacity to avoid rotating brownouts if ever there will be forced outages or supply shortages. The government will fully subsidize fuel as well as operation and maintenance costs. The ILP will be voluntary for those industrial or commercial establishments with power gensets of their own. The power they generate will also be exempted from the VAT.
The resolution also urges implementation of energy reduction programs and allows government agencies to retrofit their offices and buildings. They can buy LED bulbs, airconditioners using inverter technology and solar power systems under emergency purchasing rules that allow negotiated procurement with no bidding.
POWER pointed out that with the ILP generating at least 593 MW, and the potential savings from energy efficiency and conservation efforts of 1,354 MW as computed by the Joint Congressional Power Commission (JCPC), there will be more than enough generating capacity to cover the DOE’s worst nightmares. They pointed out that the thinning of the net reserve should be addressed but to do so, Congress need not grant the President additional powers.
POWER suggests that instead of granting the President special powers under Section 71, Congress should act on the subsidy mechanism for the ILP. In the resolution, the amount, and the source, of the subsidy are unclear. The mechanism is also vague and just leaves everything to the discretion of the President. POWER warns that just like the pork barrel and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), this lack of transparency with regard to the ILP subsidy makes accountability difficult.
I find more worrisome the push to suspend the Clean Energy Act and other environmental laws in order to allow power projects to proceed.
This means that requirements such as securing an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) and other regulations will be deferred until the power plant project is finished.
The implication of this move is that many of the existing projects that have failed to proceed precisely because they ignore the ECC process will now be free to wreak havoc the environment. We are removing the safeguards that are there to protect communities from possible long-term effects or deficiencies and putting everyone around the plant in danger.
The Aquino government is now using the specter of blackouts and power shortages in order to do away with these safeguards and keep our eye away from their failure to build these plants early on in their term.
That should have been enough time to sort out the problems in the plants’ designs, community acceptability and to get prior and informed consent.
Without these safeguards, which our communities have learned to use to protect their lives and their future, we are now at the mercy of the profit margins of power investors and the neglect of our government.
POWER has pointed to a direction that Congress can take instead of giving blanket emergency powers to the President. They suggest that Congress should now tackle the various proposals to amend or repeal EPIRA and give back to the National Power Corporation the authority and capability to construct and run power-generating plants preferably using indigenous and renewable energy sources.
The nationalization of the power industry is the long–term way to ensure sufficient and affordable electricity that will insulate us from the fickle, manipulative and profit-driven actions of private industry players.