ERC should protect consumer interests – Zarate

Published May 3, 2019, 4:50 PM

by AJ Siytangco

By Ellson Quismorio 

Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate on Friday assailed the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for being “passive” in its duty to protect consumer interests, particularly from the massive power plant shutdowns that have led to rotational brownouts and potential power price hikes.

“As regulators, the primodial role of ERC is to see that the interests of the consumers are always protected,” said Zarate, who belongs to the militant Makabayan Bloc in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate (Bayan Muna Party list Facebook page / MANILA BULLETIN)
Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate (Bayan Muna Party list Facebook page / MANILA BULLETIN)

“If the contract between the genco and DU are against the interest of consumers, should the ERC just respect it and do nothing?” he asked.

Zarate was alluding to a statement made by ERC Commissioner Catherine Maceda during a Joint Congressional Power Commission (JCPC) hearing Thursday wherein the latter said that gencos that went over the stipulated power outage allowances in their contracts would be penalized.

“Gencos and distribution utilities have an agreement as to how much outage allowance is allowed…We need to be respectful of the contracts entered into by the parties,” Maceda was quoted as saying.

But this remark struck Zarate as another case of the ERC lawyering for the huge gencos.

“The ERC shouldn’t be passive in its role and show that they were only forced to conduct investigations and impose sanctions. They shouldn’t think of the interests of power oligarchs especially if consumers will end up losing in the end,” he said.

Last month, the Luzon grid suffered a 2,200-megawatt (MW) drop in power output, leading to rotational brownouts. This accumulated drop off resulted from both scheduled shutdowns from power plants (worth 800 MW) and forced and unscheduled shutdowns (1,400 MW).

Zarate said that ERC needs to prove to the public that it is sincere in fulfilling its mandate.

“What the consumers need now is concrete action, not empty words or threat of penalty. As a starter, why not submit as soon as possible the seven Meralco PSAs (power supply agreements) to the ERC-mandated competitive selection process?”

The Davao-based solon was referring to seven contracts for the construction of coal-fired power plants that Meralco-linked gencos are seeking approval before the regulatory body. Zarate has long claimed that the pending PSAs are onerous and that better, cheaper power deals are available to the public.

The ERC has yet to render a final decision on the PSAs, which did not undergo public bidding.

Zarate said the ERC must also guarantee that the gencos won’t pass on the outage penalties that they will incur to consumers in the form of power price hikes.

Meanwhile, Murang Kuryente Party-List nominee and spokesperson Gerry Arances said that as far as he is concerned, the gencos have already breached their outage allowance limit based on the massive power drop off,  and therefore they should already be penalized.

“The outage allowance refers to a certain percentage of your capacity, but what happened was a total shutdown power plants. Totally yung supply nawala (the supply was totally gone),” Arances said.

The House seat aspirant also called on the JCPC to order a review of the contracts of the power plants that undergo these simultaneous shutdowns.

“We appeal to the JCPC to review or renegotiate the PSAs of the power plants that undergo these shutdowns. We must learn if there are enough safety nets there for consumers. We don’t want lopsided deals that will negatively affect the public,” he said.