ERC to tap prosecutors to litigate ‘collusion’ case vs power players

By Myrna M. Velasco – February 4, 2020, 10:00 PM
from Manila Bulletin

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) will be tapping external prosecutors who will litigate the seven-year old collusion case hurled against power industry players when there had been spikes in prices that reached as much as ₱5.00 per kilowatt hour.

ERC Chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera said the engagement of counsels from outside the Commission is a critical step that the regulatory agency will take so that the 2013 collusion case against the power firms can finally be resolved and put to rest.

“We don’t have the right lawyers with sufficient litigation training to handle the prosecution of the cases, most of them have left already. So now, we’re looking into hiring external counsels for these,” the ERC chief said.
Devanadera said to enable the Commission to tap external lawyers, it had to change a resolution of the ERC which prescribed that the collusion case shall only be handled by the Commission level.

“We changed already the resolution because what was stated there was: only the members of the Commission can hear the 2013 cases, so we changed it so we can have the ERC lawyers handle them so the cases can move,” she stressed.

The 2013 anti-competitive behavior case mainly pinning down the power generation companies (GenCos) stemmed from the simultaneous outages of power plants – both forced shutdowns and the scheduled downtimes of their generating units.

The worst that ever happened then was more than 3,000 megawatts of power capacity taken out simultaneously from the system. That was compounded by the scheduled maintenance shutdown at that time of the Malampaya gas production facility, which fuels roughly 2,700 megawatts of gas-fired power capacity.

And while that strain in the power system had not resulted in rolling brownouts, the consumers, primarily those served by the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), were being made to bear the brunt of additional ₱4.50 to ₱5.00 per kWh in their electric bills for the December 2013 and January 2014 billing cycles.

The spikes in power rates were only prevented from being passed on to the consumers because of a temporary restraining order (TRO) that was issued by the Supreme Court.

Several cases had been filed with the ERC revolving around the alleged collusion case of the power firms, but proceedings and rendering of decisions stalled because of the various organizational roadblocks that the regulatory body had to deal with in recent years.

Now on its seventh year, the ERC noted that it would finally want to give that case a closure, especially so since the country’s power system will be experiencing another round of tight supply scenarios in this year’s summer months.