Thursday, December 26, 2013

If Petilla can offer his head, why can’t Ducut and Ocampo do the same?

The news of Department of Energy (DoE) Secretary Jericho Petilla tendering his resignation in the wake of failure to meet his self-imposed deadline in bringing back electricity to areas ravaged by typhoon Yolanda is all over the air.  Whether the President will accept his resignation or not can be part of a ploy. But nevertheless, Petilla had the guts to place his head on the chopping board.

We wonder, however, if other inept officials in the energy family – particularly Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Chairperson Zenaida Ducut and Philippine Electricity Market Corporation (PEMC) head Mel Ocampo can do the same.

Petilla who heads the DoE is equally responsible for the government's failure to stop the P4.15/kWh rate increase imposed by Meralco.  But Ducut and Ocampo who are in the frontline and supposed to be the first persons to detect market failure and protect consumers' welfare stood idle before the coming tsunami of power hikes. They therefore should go.

Truth is, throughout their tenures, they have consistently failed to discharge their duties of regulating the power industry properly. The latest fiasco is just the culmination of years of ineptitude and incompetence.

As early as 2012, they were aware of scheduled maintenance shutdown and yet they did nothing to prevent the largest market failure in the power sector to date. In the process they unduly enriched Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to the tune of 10 billion pesos for a month's worth of power outages!

They should go based on the principle of command responsibility. At the least, they allowed the electricity market to be gamed, and at the most, they are a party to the reported collusion among power firms.

Ducut and Ocampo should be investigated for possible charges of economic sabotage.

It's also the time for the regime of Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) to go.

- NAGKAISA! Statement

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lawmakers, activists want collusion in power firms investigated by DOJ

Citing possible cartelization or combination by several power firms which led to Meralco’s sharp increase in generation charge this month, a group of lawmakers and social activists filed before the Department of Justice (DoJ) this morning, a petition asking the Office for Competition to conduct an inquiry into the matter.

Executive Order No. 45 series of 2011 has designated the Department of Justice as the Competition Authority in the country. Created under this EO was the Office for Competition which can receive any form of complaint as a basis for inquiry or further study on possible violations of laws prohibiting cartelization, monopolies, or combinations in restraint of trade as defined in competition laws.

The petitioners availed of this remedy after the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), with neither public hearings nor conduct of probe into allegations of market abuse, approved en toto the amount of P4.15/kWh that Meralco can recover from its purchase of power this month due to the scheduled shutdown of Malampaya natural gas platform.

Signatories to the letter/petition include Akbayan Representatives Walden Bello and Barry Gutierrez, Representative Raymond Mendoza of Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, economist Maitet Diokno of the Center for Power Issues and Initiatives, Wilson Fortaleza of Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) and NAGKAISA, and Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) President Ricardo Reyes.

These groups and individuals were involved in campaigns on the power issue prior to and after the passage of the Electric Power Reform Act or EPIRA. They maintain that the unabated increase in power rates, market concentration and the threat of another power crisis were the results of EPIRA which for the past eleven years produced nothing but escalating rates and diminishing power supply.

In particular, the petitioners pointed to possible collusions by Meralco, First Gas Power Corporation, San Miguel Corporation, Kepco Philippines, Aboitiz Power, Team Energy Corporation, AES Philippines and DMCI Holdings, Incorporated when their plants went into simultaneous and unscheduled shutdown resulting to more load deficits in the Luzon grid and which forced Meralco to buy a more expensive power from the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market or WESM.

“The expected and scheduled maintenance of Malampaya notwithstanding—an event Meralco was aware of more than six months before its occurrence—and Meralco’s claim that such was not anticipated, and the unscheduled shutdown of several power plants that resulted to Meralco’s recourse to expensive electricity from the WESM, are information that point to a contrived scenario of extreme short-term shortage of electricity for the purpose of raising the price of electricity beyond what it would cost to generate it,” said the petitioners.

The petitioners bewailed that the increase in electricity costs can only add to the economic burden of end-users and consumers who, at a time when the whole nation is reeling from the brunt of Typhoon Yolanda and in anxious anticipation of the holiday season, face increases in prices of basic commodities like liquefied petroleum gas, Metro Rail Transit fares and the like.

The group vowed to escalate their campaign for the overhaul of EPIRA next year.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Predatory MERALCO price hike slammed by NAGKAISA

Meralco already insured against maintenance shutdowns, Power Supply Agreements cover Meralco risk with power providers

The NAGKAISA labor coalition denounced the December P3.50 per kWh rate increase as an immoral imposition and an unconscionable predatory move in the face of our massive national suffering and despair. Instead of moderating its greed, MERALCO and the generating companies First Gas (Sta. Rita), South Premier Power Corporation (Ilijan) and Therma Mobile, Inc. (San Lorenzo) – which are its cohorts – chose to further impoverish hardworking Filipinos and complicate the already difficult road to national recovery.

MERALCO residential rates currently pegged at Php12.46 per kWh will now be hiked to Php15.96 per kWh, representing a 28% increase. The new rate is equivalent to US$ 37 cents per kWh. That is the highest residential rate, bar none, in the WORLD. Its consequences for families coping with the triple whammy of NAPOLES-scale corruption, spiralling oil and LPG prices, and natural calamities are immense.

For industry, where power rates already constitute 45% to 55% of operational costs, particularly for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and BPOs, the rate increase will greatly affect their business viability. For the national economy, it compromises our regional competitiveness in the ASEAN and will be a disincentive to locators remaining and to the entry of foreign direct investments.

NAGKAISA pointed out that before a new tariff formula called Performance-Based Rate-making (PBR) was implemented by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), MERALCO only made an annual net profit ranging from Php3 to Php6 billion. Under PBR in 2012, MERALCO declared a net income of Php16.25 billion. For 2013 MERALCO expects a consolidated net income of Php17 billion. NAGKAISA decried this overly-generous rate of return allowed by ERC which allowed MERALCO to earn in just one year what it used to take them 3 years to earn.

NAGKAISA also countered the MERALCO assertion that the maintenance work on Malampaya and resorting to the more expensive sources of WESM would result in a power rate increase of anywhere from Php2 per kWh to Php3.50 per kWh. NAGKAISA argues the following:

  • · The scheduled maintenance of Malampaya and other plants should or was already imputed in the MERALCO rate. If MERALCO management did not prudently build this into their rate then the owners and management of MERALCO should bear the loss, not the consumers. The maintenance was scheduled way ahead of time and the cost consequences should already have been placed in the power supply agreements which MERALCO entered into.
  • If there is a forced outage, MERALCO and the power producers First Gas (Santa Rita), Therma Mobile (San Lorenzo) and SPPC (Ilijan) from which MERALCO buys its power are insured against possible spikes in costs. Why is MERALCO passing the burden to consumers when there is insurance for forced outages. Again, if MERALCO did not enter into any form of insurance or contract stipulation as to who will pay for the alternative supply in case of an outage (the alternative supply in this case is WESM), then MERALCO again has acted imprudently and should bear the cost of its imprudence.
  • MALAMPAYA is providing only a certain percentage of the power needs of MERALCO. Why are the entire costs of the downtime of Malampaya being borne by MERALCO consumers? How did it amount to a possible P3.50 per kWh increase?
  • Why has the ERC as regulator not stepped-in to validate the current claims of MERALCO when there are Commission on Audit findings of overcollection in 2004 and 2007 in the generation charges of MERALCO? Does ERC take the manifestations of MERALCO and the generation players as gospel truth?
  • Why has the DOE – or the Palace for that matter – not addressed the possibility of resorting to the MALAMPAYA FUND to reduce rates and to cushion the impact if indeed there is a problem not anticipated in the power supply contracts entered into between MERALCO and the generators?

THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER IS THAT CONSUMERS ARE BEING MADE TO ADVANCE WHAT THE MERALCO WILL BE COLLECTING FROM ITS INSURERS EVENTUALLY. When MERALCO entered into its supply contracts, it inputted and covered against all projected events and the cost consequences. These costs were built into the original power supply agreement and are therefore built into the rate. Further, MERALCO insured against all risks. MERALCO IS TRYING TO COLLECT FROM ITS CUSTOMERS BECAUSE IT THINKS IT CAN FOOL THEM. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

NAGKAISA has warned that the Wholesale Electricity Supply Market (WESM) does not and cannot work where you have insufficient supply. Given inadequate power supply, there will be no competition to drive down rates because it will be a sellers market. NAGKAISA, as a disinterested party, had already warned the government of this in its meetings with the economic cluster of the Cabinet in April and May 2013. NAGKAISA notes that notwithstanding the notable failure of WESM to bring down electricity prices in Luzon and Visayas, the DOE is currently piloting it in Mindanao where power supply is also inadequate.

NAGKAISA warns that the general public are beginning to realize that the Palace is a defender of MERALCO by its statements that there is “regularity” to the rate increase because it was “in accordance with the law.” NAGKAISA reminds the Palace that it is not for the NAGKAISA or the Palace nor the DOE to determine regularity. That is a function that clearly lies with the ERC. It is the ERC which must determine the course of action to be taken: to set the increase aside or to cushion its impact through rate increases staggered over a longer period of time.

NAGKAISA also reminds the Palace that perhaps something is deadly wrong with the EPIRA Law and that it is time to take a second hard look on how to ensure affordable power and supply that is reliable. We reiterate our call for the creation of a Presidential Task Force to bring down power rates. The Palace should talk to disinterested parties – not the power cartel.

Finally, NAGKAISA reminds the Palace that if in its fight against corruption, it brought down an Ombudsman and a Chief Justice, it can certainly do something about a certain ERC Chairperson named Ducut. Consumer and labor representation in the ERC is long overdue.