Several lawmakers do not see the need to provide President Benigno Aquino 3rd with emergency powers that will allow him to acquire generator sets to address an anticipated power shortage next summer.
At least one senator and leaders in the House of Representatives are reluctant to back the emergency-power proposal being pushed by Malacañang.
At a media briefing on Thursday after deliberations on the proposed 2015 budget of the Department of Energy (DOE), Sen. Sergio Osmeña 3rd questioned the reason behind the granting of emergency powers.
The President, according to Osmena, only wanted additional authority to enable him to skirt the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) that bans the government from owning power plants and competing with the private sector.
Such authority is not acceptable to the private companies that have invested heavily in power plants in the country, the senator said.
“We Filipinos have already developed the notoriety for changing horses in the middle of the stream or for changing rules in the middle of the game and I don’t want that happening again on this issue,” he added.
Besides, buying or leasing generator sets for P6 billion to augment the summer power supply “is already out of the question because they needed a six-month lead time and we only have four months left,” Osmeña pointed out.
Instead of emergency powers, he said, he is willing to recommend to the Senate energy committee the tapping of the Malampaya fund to pay private firms participating in the Interruptible Load Program (ILP).
Under the ILP, big private establishments such as malls will switch on their back-up generators for several hours to ease the load on the grid.
Osmeña said instead of leasing or buying generators that would only be used for three months, it would be better to tap privately owned generators.
Based on Osmeña’s computation, at least 1,000 megawatts could be tapped from the ILP, out of the existing 3,000 MW from generating sets all over Luzon.
The senator said private establishments are reluctant to join the ILP because there are no clear guidelines on how the government plans to implement it.
“They [genset owners]want to see the rules, they want to know the mechanics, they want to see what the contract looks like,” Osmeña added.
He said he has seen the draft of the contract on the ILP but the final version is yet to be approved by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
In the House of Representatives, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Energy committee chairman Reynaldo Umali and House Committee on Ways and Means chairperson Romero Quimbo said they will oppose extra powers for the President because Energy officials keep providing conflicting figures and statements on the power situation in the summer of 2015.
The three were unfazed by the President’s warning that the country would lose P23 billion if a power crisis set in.
“We are acting on last Monday’s testimony of Energy department officials. If they have new relevant information that would change the picture, we would consider,” Belmonte said in a text message.
He was referring to a statement of Assistant Director Irma Esconde of the Energy department’s Industry Power Management Bureau that even in the worst-case scenario of the 647 megawatts (MW) Sual power plant shutting down, the shortage would only be 31 MW, which translates to a one hour-long, once-a-week rotating brownout.
The congressmen instead opted for an increased participation in the ILP. As of Tuesday, the power supply from ILP participants stood at 593 MW, or 107 MW behind the Energy department’s ideal figure of 700 MW.
But on Wednesday, Energy officials emphasized the need to buy additional power generation sets worth between P6 billion and P10 billion, saying the ILP is not reliable.
“The Joint Resolution [on emergency powers]is not only limited to ILP. It also covers fast-tracking the interconnection of power plants, rehabilitation of other power plants, as well as conservation and efficiency measures as fallback,” Umali said in a separate talk.
“We remain open to whatever is required to effectively solve the problem. But the Energy department has to get its act together and be consistent with what it is saying.”
“Sometimes, they say ILP is enough. The next day, they say otherwise. Congress only acts on the inputs of the Energy department so they have to be consistent with their data,” Quimbo said.
House Deputy Minority Leader Neri Colmenares also has misgivings about presidential emergency powers, saying just by rescheduling the plants’ maintenance shutdowns would result in a surplus.
Colmenares said the surplus for each month is as follows: 2,278 MW from March to April, 1,664 MW from April to May 1, 1730 MW from May 2 to 29, 1,711 from May 30 to June 6 and 1,853 MW from July 26 to 30.