An independent investigation into the brownouts that hit the country last week is being pushed, a day after the Department of Energy (DoE) warned that charges of economic sabotage were being readied against power firms that were unable to meet consumer demand.

In a statement, Victorio Mario Dimagiba, president of the Laban Konsyumer Inc., said the DoE should also be investigated and proposed that the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) take the lead.

Dimagiba also said the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) should not be conducting the investigation "because it is perceived to be pro-power stakeholders."

"Let's get ARTA as an independent prober," Dimagiba said.

Dimagiba cited a pending power supply agreement (PSA) extension of 200 megawatts (MW) in DoE to mitigate the high Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) prices for the rest of summer. During the last two weeks of May, WESM prices peaked at P16 per kilowatt hour as against the P5 kWh that was pending before the DoE.

He claimed that the DoE "mismanaged" the peak quarter data, which it submitted in a recent hearing at the House of Representatives.

He said the Grid Operating and Maintenance Program for the second quarter posted on the website of the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) on April 21 was dated April 15.

"Here it is clearer that red alerts were planned from May 28 to June 10.... However, DoE used April 15, 2021 data," Dimagiba said.

Following the House Committee on Energy hearing on Friday, the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Associations Inc. (Philreca) said the drop in manual load and rotational brownouts have affected residential, commercial and industrial customers "because there is not enough time for the people to prepare given the very short notice provided to us."

"Our member-electric cooperatives, being the sector closely in contact with the consumers, have received dozens of grievances and complaints from our member-consumer-owners. This is understandable, but we have been trying to explain that the real scenario is that electric cooperatives only distribute the available supply," it said.

While electricity demand varies throughout the year, Philreca stressed that during the summer season, especially from April to August, the consumption increases at its highest compared with other periods. "This - being seasonal and a cycle - is something that we at the distribution sector are preparing as early as the start of the year. Our preparation actually is a year-round effort," it said.

"[A]s far as ensuring the supply and stability of energy is concerned, we at the distribution sector can only do so much. Some of our member-ECs (electric cooperatives) have ventured into renewable energy projects, but sadly, their capacity is not yet enough to cover the huge decline in reserves brought about by the shutdowns or maintenance - extended, scheduled or not - and derated capacity of older plants," Philreca added.

In a letter to the ERC dated June 3, the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms, Inc. (Nasecore) urged the state regulator to review the PSAs between distribution utilities (DUs) and generation companies (gencos), including ancillary service contracts procured by NGCP.

It also asked the ERC to inspect the physical condition of the power plants vis-à-vis their required reliability, noting that some were "old and retriable."

Nasecore National President Pete Ilagan said the ERC must respond with an iron fist against these violations, assert its authority over the gencos and to create a national task force to look into the matter.

He also urged the DoE to review all ERC-approved PSAs of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) other privately-owned DUs and electric cooperatives to "have an overall picture of the power supply situation in the country."

"This situation is totally uncalled for, especially at this time when our economy is reeling from the Covid19 pandemic. Not only that; it is also a violation of the law where the government and the private power sector are mandated to ensure quality, reliable and secure supply of electricity," he added.

Roberto Racelis Jr., GNPower Mariveles Energy Center representative, said it would support and cooperate with the government's investigation on any of its present or future inquiries regarding its power situation.

The Manila Times also sought out other power companies for their comments, but they have not replied as of press time.