An advocacy group advocating lower electricity rates challenged newly-confirmed Energy Secretary Jose Almendras to stop the sale of remaining government-owned power plants. 

If approved, the move will just be the first step of the Aquino administration to draft a comprehensive solution to the failed Electricity Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) as well as the government's energy program, the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) said on Thursday.

The move will also help poor communities enjoy affordable electricity, the FDC said.

In turn, Secretary Almendras said he was open to deferring power plant sales, a sentiment he expressed during a speech before the FDC-convened National Electricity Consumers Conference held at Ciudad Christhia Resort in Ampid, San Mateo, Rizal.

“Secretary Almendras' openness to the idea of deferring power plant sales is a welcome development, especially in our struggle to reduce the cost of electricity,” FDC President Ricardo Reyes said.

Attended by more than eighty representatives of consumer groups, people's organizations, environmental groups, and electric cooperatives from all over the Philippines, the conference aimed to expose the irregularities and propose long-term solutions to issues currently hounding the country's power industry.

During the mid-morning open forum, the newly-confirmed Almendras was asked regarding his opinion regarding the privatization of the Agus-Pulangi hydropower complex in Mindanao.

The power plant complex is the only generation asset temporarily exempted from the Electricity Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) which mandates private ownership of all power plants.

However, that exemption ends this year, threatening low power prices enjoyed by residents in Mindanao. On the average, Luzon pays P4.26 per kW/hour for electricity, P4.03 per kW/hour for those in the Visayas and only P2.81 in Mindanao.

The complex, which supplies 55 percent of electricity in the Philippines' second-largest island, is supposedly being readied for bidding by the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM), a public corporation tasked to sell government-owned power plants.  

Early last year, the FDC – together with other groups – was able to block the sale of Angat Dam after they asked the Supreme Court to stop the dam's privatization.

Besides supplying 97 percent of water to Metro Manila, the hydropower facility also provides irrigation to farms in Pampanga and Bulacan provinces.

Also last year, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order stopping the sale of the Unified Leyte Geothermal Plants following a petition by local electric cooperatives and opposition from local groups. The groups feared that the "sky-high" bids which Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM) accepted will result in high electricity price.

The Unified Leyte facilities include the: 125-MW Upper Mahiao plant; 232-MW Malitbog, 180-MW Mahanagdong and the 51-MW Optimization plants.

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