Noting that uncertainty in power supply is putting the country’s growth momentum at risk, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on Monday said bills seeking to amend the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) will be among the priority measures in the 16th Congress .
Belmonte, in a speech, told lawmakers that they must also give priority to amendatory bills on Epira, Build-Operate-Transfer Law, Cabotage Law and other measures that promote infrastructure development.
“Our country’s growth momentum is now put at risk by the chronic precarious power supply situation,” he said.
While Epira empowers the executive to ensure power supply security, Belmonte noted, it is Congress, exercising its oversight powers through the Joint Congressional Power Commission, that should review implementation of Epira and rules and regulations of the Energy Regulatory Commission and the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market.
The Speaker then urged the House Committee on Energy to consolidate proposals in order to address the need for competitive bidding of bilateral contracts and establish a “genuinely competitive power market” that will foster a level playing field for all stakeholders in the energy sector.
He said Congress must also give focus to the country’s non-renewable natural resources because balance must be struck between the interest of private entities and that of the government in developing extractive industries
The Epira, enacted by then-President Gloria Arroyo in 2011 in a bid to lower power rates for consumers and lessen government burden, restructured the power industry and privatized most government plants.
Some lawmakers and businessmen have been pushing for its review or amendment in light of power rate hikes since last year.
As of May this year, there were 14 separate House bills or resolutions on Epira, with some seeking amendments and others a repeal.
Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City and his brother Rep. Maximo Rodriguez of Abante Mindanao party-list pushed for amendments to Epira to allow the government to enter into power generation, citing the current energy problem especially in Mindanao.
They made the pitch in House Bill 4422, which aims to allow the government generate and sell electricity from renewable energy sources and also to incur obligations to purchase power through bilateral contracts with generation companies or other suppliers.
“These very dark projections can actually be already felt on the island as parts of Mindanao are now suffering from 10 to 12 hours of rotating power blackouts,” Rodriguez said, citing a Department of Energy (DOE) report on the 2013 power-supply demand.
He added that the DOE reported that the region’s power supply of 1,064 MW was 158 MW short of its peak demand of 1,222 MW.
Also, it noted that the Mindanao grid has been experiencing “under-generation” since 2001 while the region needs 1,600 megawatts of additional power to “meet the electricity demand and the required reserve margin of the grid.”
The two lawmakers attributed the rotating brownouts to an Epira provision that prohibits the government from putting up additional power-generation sources.
Epira allows the National Power Corp. (Napocor) to generate and sell electricity only from undisposed generating assets and Independent Power Producer (IPP) contracts of the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (Psalm) Corp. and shall not incur any new obligations to purchase power through bilateral contracts with generation companies or other suppliers.
Meanwhile, some lawmakers such as Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares have expressed the need for new power plants to harness the country’s alternative sources of energy, particularly renewable ones like solar and wind power, and natural gas deposits in the Reed Bank and Benham Rise in the South China Sea.
Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla recently suggested to President Benigno Aquino 3rd the declaration of a state of emergency in the power sector, citing the looming supply problem in the first quarter of 2015.
He asked Aquino to invoke Section 71 of Epira, which authorizes the President to ask powers from Congress to enter into negotiated contracts for the construction, repair and maintenance of power plants, and to compel the IPPs to supply power to distribution utilities.