ERC vows decision on 1,000 cases until 2019 first quarter

By Myrna M. Velasco – June 6, 2018, 10:00 PM
from Manila Bulletin

The chief of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) will be pulling strings so the regulatory body can keep pace with its target to successfully decide on at least 1,000 pending cases until the first quarter of 2019.

Reckoned from the set timeline, ERC Chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera noted that the Commission will have at least nine months from now to complete all deliberation processes as well as promulgation of the warranted decisions.

“We currently have 1,000 cases targeted for decision…we will likely finish all of them by first quarter of 2019,” she said, relative to the ERC’s zero-backlog aspiration on their handling of cases as well as on their rule-setting function.

Devanadera qualified that prioritization of cases to be acted upon had been weighed based on either importance as well as the ‘age’ as to when these filings have been pending with the regulatory body.

“We are balancing our action on these cases – some shall be according to importance. We also considered geographic factors as well as the urgency of cases, because we have seen cases that are already 2-4 years old at the Commission,” she stressed.

On the zero-backlog target, she explained that this will not mean totally dispensing all cases at the ERC within a certain timeframe, “there will always be new filings and applications, so it will never get to zero. But what we are targeting, we shall at least be up-to-date in deciding cases.”

Fundamentally, the ERC is often blamed as the ‘slow performer’ when it comes to sorting out regulatory rules and case approvals sought by investors, but the Commission is now advancing word that it will step up on its processes.

One crucial step it had taken toward this goal is embracing ‘digital portal’ on its operation, hence, this raises hope that this will finally end its snail-paced function mode.

For regulated entities, the ERC will be formally launching this month its Web Portal for Interactive and Systematic Exchange (eWISE), which it aligns as a weapon in “improving regulatory efficiency and effectiveness and to better manage regulatory work.”

It explained that the eWISE shall be an “interactive portal between regulated entities and the ERC to manage submissions and track regular filings, requests for approval and other requirements.”

Beyond digitalizing its systems though, faster and more determined actions are expected from the ERC when it comes to the pending power supply agreements (PSAs) and other applications because these are extremely necessary before investors could kick off new projects that shall meet the country’s energy needs.

On the whole, the ERC noted that this will “streamline the regulatory processes necessary to achieve the zero backlog target, automate data validation and ensure web portal security.”

This computerized system of the ERC’s processes had been concretized through consultancy support from Australian firm Castalia Strategic Advisors; as well as Steve Roe and Associates.

Specifically, the recommendations had been to modify and streamline the regulatory agency’s works on capital expenditure (capex) rules; power supply agreements (PSA) and the rules for setting electric cooperatives’ wheeling rates.

Devanadera said the regulating body’s “shift to the eWISE system serves as a catalyst as it introduces a new and better way of doing things in the ERC.”

She qualified that the Commission highly recognized  “the need to equip the employees with the proper knowledge and skills to facilitate the transition stage and ensure the success of the ERC’s eWISE project.”

To prepare ERC employees on this platform shift, they had to undergo change management workshop the previous months, primarily to capacitate them “in managing the transition stage and to craft a communication plan to address the issues relative to the implementation of the eWise project.”

Further, the ERC’s forward direction on reset processes on the tariff setting of regulated power utilities via performance-based regulation (PBR) is now direly needed; with many utilities already failing on rate adjustments in the past two to three years.

With all the investments already undertaken by regulated power entities, it is expected that tariffs passed on to consumers may have already gone down, but because of the regulatory lag directly attributed to ERC’s sluggish system, consumers cannot benefit yet from any expected cost relief.