Wake Up Calls For All of Us On Power Yellow Alerts…Whose Job is it Anyway?

David Celestra Tan, MSK
23 April 2019

The Yellow and Red alerts of power shortages should wake up all of us towards the reality that a power crisis can be upon us and can have devastating impact our economic boom years. The blame game is going wild so let us take stack and see who should be waking up and for what reality.

1. You, I, and the Public

We the consumers have a lot of waking up to do. It is quite scary that in the face of a power crisis we the consumers would lose however it is resolved.

If the power crises happens we will be down on our knees begging for electricity at any price, by any method, and no matter how dirty. To avert these blackouts, new power plants will need to be built. And guess whose new power projects are being rammed through our throats? 4,005mw of MeralcoPowerGen’s all coal projects no less….and counting.

In case you have not heard, seven of these contracts totaling 3,551mw are stuck in legal controversy since 2016 brought about by ERC itself. The Prices and terms that will be charged to you and I were just negotiated between Meralco and its sister companies. One called Atimonan One with 1,200mw has a published rate with ERC at P3.75 per kwh but if updated to current exchange rate, inflation, and coal fuel, is actually now P5.65 per kwh. And who knows what else are hidden in the secret provisions that they asked not to be disclosed to the public? In short, if those MeralcoPowerGen contracts are approved as we, the ERC, and the DOE, and probably the Supreme Court are being manipulated to agree to, we the consumers are screwed and stuck with sweetheart prices and terms for 20 years. And those pass on charges are not small. PowerGen is cornering 80% of the energy needs of Meralco.

That happened in April 2016, three (3) years ago. Since then, no new power projects were announced, either by Meralco, Aboitiz, and their cartel partners. The power development of the country is at a standstill and it seems everything is being bet on those Meralco contracts. Meralco by the way as the largest distribution utility is exerting its market control since no major power project will happen without them agreeing to be a buyer. And they will not agree unless….you know the rest of the story.

It is depressing to wake up to the reality that we as consumers are screwed either way. If it were a game of chess, “mate natayo” even before we realize there is even a game going on. And what is worse is the feeling that no one is truly protecting us in this country of ours. Sure we hear all these government officials saying they are doing things to protect the public, to assure supply. So does Meralco using that line in vain.

MSK as your advocacy group has been trying to point out regulatory flaws but the regulators especially the last batch were evidently apathetic to public interest. We hope we have a better one in the new batch but so far it is not encouraging if we go by the guideline for power supply procurement that they are drafting. Loopholes for circumvention of true CSP are evidently being built into it. Hayy.

( See our article Who is to Blame for the Delays of the 1,200mw Atimonan One and 600mw Redondo Power Coal Projects? Meralco, Consumer Groups, or ERC? Matuwid.org June 5, 2018)

At this stage though it is no longer what Meralco and ERC did but how do we move forward with new power projects. And Meralco, the new DOE, the new ERC, and the Chairmen of the Energy Committees of Congress and the Senate, the JCPC, the Supreme Court, and even the President of the Philippines, could have taken proactive moves to break the impasse and get the country moving so a power crises is prevented…..while there is still time to prevent it.

Eerily, no one is moving. Sadly, when something happens, we the consumers are disadvantaged. And no one is protecting us. Why are we always in a lose-lose situation….and they the vested interests are always in a win-win position?

2. Your beloved Distribution Utility Meralco

The first move should have been coming from Meralco, the distribution utility itself. It is them who have the contractual mandate with the consumers by virtue of their public service franchise to assure the provision of adequate power supply in the least cost manner.

But they will not move because they are conflicted and protecting their power generation interest. Meralco clearly is putting higher priority to being the sister company of their MeralcoPowerGen instead of being the public service provider to the consumers. And they appear to be willing to push the country to the brink of power crisis so that they can get their way.

But “we are looking after the public interest”Meralco would argue. That is why they want all seven (7) of our power supply contracts approved by the ERC starting with their 1,200mw Atimonan One and the 600mw Redondo Power in Subic. Why can’t they initiate a happy compromise (front door or backdoor) where they get to implement their earlier projects for commissioning in 2020 and 2021 and subject to true CSP the balance those that are needed for 2022 to 2025? Should it really be all or nothing? Their way or no way?

Meralco should act like your distribution utility looking after the public interest.

3. The new Department of Energy

We are calling them new because the Meralco deals were done in April 2016, a month before the last Presidential elections and before President Duterte is able to appoint his own Energy Secretary. (That’s another reason those contracts became known as “midnight”)

Under the EPIRA Law of 2001, the Department of Energy has the specific tasks of assuring there is adequate supply of power through enabling policy and proactive promotion of investments in power and energy.

They could have been excused from proactively getting involved in resolving the effective freeze in power generation projects in 2017 as they try to learn the ropes but by 2018 alarm bells should be ringing. The country is on its way to a power crisis and the DOE needs to do something and make things happen.

Why not be the catalyst for a national consensusfor a solution? The Alyansa Para saBagongPilipinas and the Bayan Muna,the cause oriented groups that filed the cases in the Office of the Ombudsman and the Supreme Court against ERC and the seven (7) Meralco contracts, should not be above participating in a national resolution if it is to the public interest.

Then if not resolving the legally questionable Meralco contracts, why not the DOE push for new tenders for power supply under true CSP rules. Why not hold tenders for LNG power plants? If the Meralco cartel members are not willing to participate there are many highly qualified and proven power generators who can participate. Such truly competitive biddings will have the added benefit of answering for the country the question of which is better for the consumers, negotiated or openly tendered power supply?

Are there factions within the DOE that are participating in allowing the country to slide to the brink and helping create an environment where the public will be so scared of a blackouts that they will not care if the power supplies were anomalous and overpriced and violative of its own CSP policy?

4. The Supreme Court

The ERC, DOE, and Meralco are all pointing at the Supreme Court for their collective inability to resolve Meralco’s seven power supply projects. And the longer th