By Robert B. Roque, Jr.
Hardly has the country been back on its feet that people now face the prospect of paying more for their energy needs next year.
This could have been cushioned, though, had the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) entertained the soundness of the joint petition by SMC Global Power and Meralco that sought a measly 30-centavo increase for every kilowatt hour (kWh) in their power supply agreement (PSA) for a stretch of six months.
Computations pointed to the petition as the most affordable. Unfortunately, there’s just no alternative than the higher cost of electricity that’s now offing.
Our bills are now pinching our pockets that even ERC Chairperson and CEO Monalisa Dimalanta, after receiving the public’s ire, acknowledged that actions are needed to keep power costs lower.
But she is also aware that it won’t be easy as there is no alternative to the joint SMCGP-Meralco petition that two of her ERC commissioners said was right. It was evident that the ERC, on a 3-2 count, erred there. Therefore, even if the ERC vainly made President Bongbong Marcos parrot its stand, it was mistaken.
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Now, in a face-saving act, Dimalanta says the ERC will suspend the collection of the feed-in tariff allowance (FIT-All) for three months beginning in December. A band-aid solution administered by a myopic team.
FIT-All is a subsidy paid for by the electricity consumers that goes to selected renewable energy power producers. It is a 20-year guaranteed rate to select renewable energy (RE) players to encourage more investments and clean technologies to supply the country’s growing energy demand.
Distribution utilities (DUs), the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP), and Retail Electricity Suppliers (RES) collect these funds from consumers and businesses nationwide before the FIT Fund is remitted to be administered by TransCo.
The government had fought long before it succeeded in making the public accept the FIT Fund. However, concerns about the lack of transparency in the FIT system persist, and Dimalanta might have opened the system to further scrutiny from consumer groups.
In what appears as a slip, Dimalanta said: “We join the rest of government in introducing remedies to ease inflation pressure on our citizens, including those that impact their ability to pay for the rising cost of electricity due to external pressures.”
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Funny, but those “external pressures” were the same arguments cited by Meralco and SMCGP in their joint petition. The two companies argued that they could no longer keep their PSA working on massive losses brought about by the war initiated by Russia against Ukraine in February.
That conflict had forced coal-producing countries to protect their stocks as fuel is now hard to come each day the war continues. As a result, even countries that have previously abandoned coal use have reopened their coal power plants.
Indonesia also decided to protect its coal stock by not exporting the fuel that powers almost 60 percent of the Philippines’ energy needs. The result of these confluences of unfortunate events is higher prices of energy. SMCGP and Meralco could no longer sustain their business and service on losses.
Two other ERC Commissioners acknowledged that. Only Dimalanta is turning a blind eye to this fact, although she knows why power rates are spiking.
It is partly her fault that citizens are asking if she is there at ERC to serve the people or if she is just there to complete the three-cornered lock by her boss Sabin Aboitiz on the energy leadership along with fellows Raphael Lotilla, the Energy Secretary, and Dennis Edward De la Serna, PSALM’s President and CEO.
There’s no better name for that than regulatory capture.
Aboitiz must be so happy at the expense of his friend, the President, who will be at the receiving end of all these even if Dimalanta manages to parry all blame from the public.
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