David Celestra Tan, MSK
19 July 2019
There are many unclear issues that any takeover by the private sector of an electric coop would be messy. It behooves the Department of Energy to establish clear rules soonest before target areas are thrown into chaos. Some profound aspects that need clarity are the following:
1. Due process – In taking away or not renewing franchises, there has to be due process. The legislative Franchising Committee does not appear to provide for a due process for denying renewals of incumbent franchise holders much less for cancelling an existing franchise and giving it to someone else. The acrimonious state of the PECO takeover of its assets could have been less so had there been true due process in the franchise denial.
2. Valuation and Definition of Distribution Assets
As we have seen, it is not enough to rely on the power of eminent domain to force the take over. At the same time, the right of the former public utility franchise holder to hold on and value its distribution assets may not be absolute because the consequent rates to the consumers will need to be considered especially when the government is effecting a change of franchise holder. It needs to assure the consumers that it is to their better interest and that includes the rates will be better. Only Distribution lines and substations should be part of eminent domain. Expensive real estate and buildings accumulated over the years should not be part of the rate base. Allow the new franchise holder to lease from the owner to avoid disruption of operations while he is looking and setting up his own buildings and base of operations within say five (5) years. Instead of just handing out franchises, the LFC might want to include these provisions in the franchise.
3. Standards of DU Failure – When does an incumbent franchise holder deserve not to be renewed? And when does an EC’s franchise deserve to be cancelled? The term “ailing” is not clear and if we go by the definition of RA 10531, it means an EC is bankrupt and not able to operate. It is not enough for the area Congressmen, Governor, and Mayors to declare that an EC is ailing. (we have a long running joke. Before you can privatize and rehabilitate a coop, you must destroy it first!).
4. Other Policy issues on the takeover of an electric coop?
a) Who makes the decision on whether the coops franchise should be defended? The Coop Board or its member-owners? If you are an owner and your business franchise is being taken away which will marginalize your business value, would you not have a right to fight for it?
b) Who makes a decision on whether the coops assets should be sold? Should it not be the member-owners?
c) If your coop management has been taken over by the NEA, can the member-owners not demand that NEA rehabilitate the coop as required by law under RA 10531? What are your options if NEA is not doing enough to address the problems of the EC under its management?
d) What happens if your EC Board is not doing enough to protect the coop franchise and assets, can the member-owners call for an emergency stockholders meeting and elect a new Board? What are the rules if the EC is registered with the CDA? Would you not remove your Board if they are not protecting the interest of the stockholders?
e) Should the DOE not establish guaranteed service level improvements as a condition for the entry of the private sector? What happens if they fail? Can they also be replaced?
f) Will the consumers in these islands still be entitled to missionary subsidies? How much time is the new private franchise holder allowed to reduce his true cost of generation and the phase out of the government subsidy?
g) What will happen to the IPP’s who have long term contracts with the EC’s? Will their power supply agreements be rescinded or renegotiated by the new franchise holder?
h) Assuming the member-owners are willing to sell, Who determines what is the fair value of their shares and the distribution assets?
i) How about the employees of the EC’s? Will they get fair retirement packages?
j) Will the DU service compliance standards to their franchises obligations be the same for the off-grid and on-grid Distribution Utilities? Will our legislators hold Meralco to the same franchise compliance standards? And will they dare to even suggest a grab of Meralco’s franchise?
DOE and NEA as White Knights
Actually at this stage only the Department of Energy appear to be trying to do something to rehabilitate Paleco through a Task Force created by Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi and had recently issued orders for Paleco, NEA, and NPC to correct the problems that have been identified. Will the provincial and City officials impede the rehabilitation? (The DOE we understand had created similar task forces also for Mindoro and Masbate)
NEA under RA 10531 is mandated to step in when there are management problems of electric coops and service is deteriorating. They then are legally obligated to rehabilitate the EC like Paleco. With the DOE Task Force showing the way for Paleco problem corrections, will NEA, and NPC whose outdated transmission facilities on the 400km long island is part of the brownout problem, step up to really solve the problems on the ground? Or will they be tacit parts of the political campaign to make poor Paleco look terrible to justify its disenfranchisement?
Meanwhile, the DOE needs to see the writing on the wall that the big conglomerates, who can fund lobby campaigns to take over EC franchises of plum areas, will continue to launch hostile takeovers of EC’s and clear rules are needed quickly, and leadership provided, to assure the service to the public does not deteriorate. Maybe all it will take it to tighten and update the rules under the IMC program. (and delete that MC option for Christ’s sake!). Will it not be a wonderful EC world if we also find a solution to the unspoken “politically ailing” coops? Just kidding.
The Epira Law under Section 37 specifically mandates the DOE to supervise the restructuring of the power sector. And the takeover of the franchise areas of Electric Coops is a major tectonic power sector restructuring affecting millions of marginalized consumers.
MatuwidnaSingilsaKuryente Consumer Alliance Inc.