New ERC Chair urged to prioritize power consumers

Published August 5, 2022, 3:22 PM

by Myrna M. Velasco

Newly-designated Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Chairperson Monalisa C. Dimalanta is being prodded this early to “prioritize the welfare” of Filipino consumers in her new role as chief regulator in the restructured electricity sector; instead of bowing down to the wishes of her former corporate masters.

Dimalanta is undoubtedly highly qualified for the ERC post, but many stakeholders in the power industry have been raising eyebrows when it comes to her loyalty and what she will prioritize when it comes to dispensing her duties at the regulatory body – especially so since she’s coming fresh from her role as Chief Legal Counsel of Aboitiz Power Corporation, currently the country’s biggest power generation company.

Power for People (P4P) Convenor Gerry Arances primarily asserted that the industry is wading through “another appointment tainted with the interest of private companies.”

He stressed that “in the midst of unceasing electricity price hikes and inflation, it seems that consumer welfare has been once again neglected.”

Arances further indicated that until this time, “we long for the day when the ERC is represented by someone completely devoid of any ties to a private entity.”

The group similarly posed challenge to Dimalanta “to offer relief to electricity consumers by finally prioritizing affordable and reliable renewable energy sources and putting a stop to the ridiculous attempts by energy and fuel companies to pass on charges despite posting billions of income.”

Upon assumption into office at the ERC, Dimalanta will be greeted by pending petitions that could trigger rate increases in the bills of consumers – including the pending application of SMC Global Power for fuel cost recovery; as well as the P22.64 billion worth of cost recoveries that the power generation companies have been batting for, and that is being pushed despite allegations of collusion thrown against them in 2013 when their power plants ran into simultaneous forced outages – that in the process had ignited astronomical spikes in power rates at the electricity spot market.

To this day, the recurring forced outages of electric generating plants continue to strain the country’s power system – and through the years, the ERC had not been that tough in enforcing discipline to erring industry players, including those that have been repeatedly tagged to be gaming the electricity spot market.

Even the ERC’s investigation of the alleged “collusion” of power plants had long been pending with the regulatory body – and it remains to be seen if Dimalanta will be brave enough to re-open probe on such alleged acts of the industry’s big boys.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who previously chaired the Senate committee on energy, had reminded Dimalanta that the past ERC in his assessment, had undertaken measures “to protect electricity consumers.”

The senator thus noted that he is looking forward to “continued collaborative initiatives with the ERC under the new leadership of Atty. Mona Dimalanta.”

The lawmaker added “I hope that with her at the helm of ERC, we will continue to accomplish more great things together in promoting consumer interests, penalizing abuse of market power, encouraging market development, and promoting competition in the market.”