DOE takes ‘mandatory stance’ for RCOA in motion to SC

By Myrna M. Velasco – April 24, 2017, 10:00 PM

from Manila Bulletin

The Department of Energy (DOE) has taken a mandatory stance on the enforcement of retail competition and open access (RCOA) for the restructured electricity sector in the motion for reconsideration it filed with the Supreme Court on an earlier temporary restraining order (TRO) handed down against the policy.

“Our position is still mandatory because we looked at the practicality of that approach,” Energy Undersecretary Felix William Fuentebella said.

He noted this was the “common position” that the DOE had taken with the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) when they sought for the high court’s reconsideration of the earlier ruling on RCOA’s implementation for the contestable segment of the power industry.

“We have emphasized that in having a pro-consumer stance in coming up with a new market development, we have to ensure fairness and transparency, we have to ensure that the playing field is level for everybody,” the energy official said.

In Congress, lawmakers in the oversight body Joint Congressional Power Commission (JCPC) are likewise firming up plans on the issuance of a resolution to clarify legal questions as to the spirit and intent of RCOA as enshrined in the Electric Power Industry Reform Act.

Senate Committee on Energy chairman Sen. Sherwin T. Gatchalian told reporters that this has already been discussed with his counterpart in the lower chamber, Representative and House Energy Committee chairman Lord Allan Jay Velasco.

“We are now in the process of reviewing the transcript and the spirit of RCOA during its initial deliberations in the Senate and Congress… I put this question to the JCPC, so my suggestion is for us at JCPC to issue a resolution on our opinion,” the senator said.

He qualified though that they are still at research phase, hence, the tenor of that resolution is a matter that the legislators have yet to resolve and agree on.

“I cannot say for now, but we will definitely issue a resolution and hopefully that resolution can be used in clearing up the Supreme Court case or it can be used outright in addressing the concern of the DUs (distribution utilities). That resolution will set the legal basis, so we are reviewing that – what is it in the real spirit of the RCOA,” Gatchalian explained.

At the DOE, Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi previously indicated to media that “voluntary RCOA” was by far under consideration following the high court’s restraining order.

But Fuentebella qualified that when the department sat down with the ERC Commissioners on a “common stance” that they had to raise with the SC, both agencies understood the need for mandatory enforcement looking at it from the viewpoint of expanding the base of competition in the retail power segment.

“If it will not be mandatory, the number of players (retail electricity suppliers) coming in might also be limited, so that will also limit the choice for consumers, that’s why we had to look at it from the aspect of practicality,” he stressed.

In taking that approach relative to the RCOA policy, he noted that the sector may finally be cleared of the legal questions and complexities once the SC renders a final verdict on the case.

“That case is already there, so we let the court decide on it… we can’t move forward if we can’t hurdle this,” Fuentebella stressed.