ERC struggling to resolve big load of case backlogs amid flurry of PSAs

By Myrna M. Velasco – July 29, 2019, 10:00 PM
from Manila Bulletin

No less than Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera has admitted that they are still wrestling with thousands of case backlogs and the regulatory body is not expecting this abated because of expected flurry of new power supply agreements (PSAs) from the competitive selection process (CSP) mandate on distribution utilities.

Agnes T. Devanadera

Agnes T. Devanadera

“We still have thousands of backlog cases,” Devanadera stressed, adding that the Commission’s timeframe of unpacking its docket of cases this year will no longer be attainable.

The ERC chief further said, “We’re not just talking about the initial applications – and considering the very aggressive CSP initiatives we have right now, there will definitely be more cases that we will need to decide on.”

She said the Commission has been trying to address the voluminous case backlogs since she started her term, but they were first constrained with shortage of personnel that can handle evaluation of cases – especially those on PSAs.

The ERC, she emphasized, is still at that stage of reinforcing its capacity enhancement so it instituted a “buddy-buddy system” or for its employees in the Regulatory Operations Service (ROS) to have under-studies so they can train people to have expertise in handling PSA cases.

“Now you will find in the ERC many new employees and that’s part of addressing the backlog,” Devanadera said, emphasizing that their ROS division now has more than 100 staff.

“The 14 staff handling PSAs now have their buddies. So even if the staff in that work had not really been increased in the strict sense, they are already training people or their buddies to gain expertise in handling these cases,” the ERC chief stressed.

The ERC has been unremittingly criticized for its very slow decision-making process especially on cases that weigh heavily on investment decisions as well as those that could ensure power supply availability and reliability for consumers.

Other than resolving the long-held concern of colossal case backlogs, Devanadera also sounded off the need to change the mindset of ERC officials from “not just being regulators, but to be enablers” especially with the unstoppable pace of innovations in the energy sector.

“Even the regulators must have that kind of sensitivity at this point in time…if we remain to be pure regulators, we will be lost,” Devanadera said.

In other power markets overseas, energy regulators have already started modifying even their rate-setting schemes; and have been opening up markets to a lesser degree of regulation so competitive forces could freely innovate and design the best service package for the end-users.

In the Philippines, however, the deregulated electricity sector is still stuck in the very political and antiquated sphere of regulation and policy-making processes.