By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian has sought a Senate inquiry to assess the impact of the enhanced community quarantine on the power sector.
Gatchalian, in filing Senate Resolution No. 361, said it is necessary to determine the short, medium and long-term effects of the ECQ, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, on the power sector and consumers to determine whether there is a need for Congress to craft a stimulus package to cushion the impact to power generation companies (gencos).
The Senate energy committee chief said it is necessary to look into how consumers can cope with payments of all electricity bill obligations at the end of the ECQ while at the same time, helping power companies manage their losses due to the lockdown.
Gatchalian recalled that the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) had issued a directive last April 15 directing all Distribution Utilities (DUs), such as the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), and Retail Electricity Suppliers (RES) to provide a grace period in electricity bills payment due within the ECQ period from March 16 to April 30 without interest, penalties, fees and other charge.
Accordingly, the ERC has also agreed on staggering piled up payments for four months. Thus, Gatchalian said it is important to know the ramifications on the generation charge being paid by consumers if DUs are not able to meet the required minimum energy offtake.
The senator said the Department of Energy (DOE) has seen around 30 percent reduction in electricity demand from March to April due to delays in ongoing construction of power plants and transmission projects.
“Nakita natin sa pag-implement ng enhanced community quarantine ang pagbaba ng transport, industrial, at commercial activities sa bansa, na nagresulta sa pagbaba din ng pagkonsumo ng kuryente (We saw that as soon as the enhanced community quarantine was implemented, there was a slowdown on transport, industrial and commercial activities in the country and that resulted to a lower electricity consumption),” Gatchalian said.
“Ang patuloy na pagbagsak ng konsumo ng kuryente ay maaaring makaapekto sa energy security ng ating bansa (The low electricity demand can heavily affect our country’s energy security),” the senator pointed out.
In preparing for these possible effects, Gatchalian said it is necessary for Congress to determine the necessity of a financial stimulus package for the power sector “with the end goal of ensuring a continuous and reliable supply of energy while protecting the consumers.”
The ERC earlier suspended the payment of all fees of DUs to power gencos due within the quarantine period.
Gatchalian said he wants to know particularly if gencos can still carry on with their operations despite the suspension of electricity bill and DU payments.
The lawmaker said there is a need to prevent a possible worst-case scenario from happening where power companies would be forced to shut down operations due to deferred electricity bill and DU payments.