MANILA, Philippines – The Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM) should drop altogether its stranded debts and contract costs recovery petitions before the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and start thinking about the welfare of electricity consumers, the Freedom from Debt Coalition said over the weekend.

This is after PSALM’s new president Emmanuel Ledesma Jr. announced in a press conference about the firm’s plan to withdraw its P471-billion stranded debts recovery bid and three other applications which had been initially intended for pass-on to consumers under the universal charge (UC) component of the electric bills.

Ric Reyes, FDC president, said that PSALM should veer away from the past administration’s strategy of passing on the firm’s inefficiency to the consumers in terms of high electricity rate, and to “grab the bull by the horns” by confronting head-on the root of this problem – the onerous contracts with independent power producers (IPPs).

“Masyado nang mabigat para sa ating mga kababayan ang napakamahal na kuryente. Panahon na para hanapan ng ibang solusyon at harapin mismo ang ugat ng problemang ito,” said Reyes.

IPPs

“As first steps, the government should conduct a meaningful and substantial new round of review and renegotiations of contracts with IPPs, and immediately rescind onerous ones already established by the previous Inter-Agency Review Committee,” said Reyes.

He said that the debt of NPC will continue to grow as long as government continued to legitimize and honor these one-sided agreements.

“Worse, the contracts of NPC with the IPPs have been renegotiated only in name but not in substance,” said Reyes.

“In fact, the Committee produced a report that showed five contracts were ‘onerous’, 24 other contracts contain various degrees of legal, financial, and social infirmities, and only six of the 35 contracts are ‘clean’,” the FDC president added.

Enforce provisions in IPP contracts

FDC also said that the government led by energy agencies should take a strong action to enforce the provisions in the contract that call for the IPPs to maintain a certain level of operational readiness.

Milo Tanchuling, FDC secretary-general, explained that the market data available through the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) can show which IPP plants are undergoing forced outage, that is, unplanned or unprogrammed outage.

“The take-or-pay provisions in the contracts with the IPPs provide no incentive for the IPPs to keep their plants in good running condition. In fact, the incentive is in the opposite: you get paid even if you don’t run, and if you don’t run, why spend to maintain your plant?” Tanchuling said.

“But there are provisions in the contract that require a certain level of readiness, and all the government has to do is simply enforce this,” he stressed.

Lawsuit

The advocacy group likewise recommended the filing of a case to those signatories to the contracts who until today have not been made accountable for the contracts they signed and for which the public is made to pay even when electricity is not delivered or produced.

FDC cited as basis Section 68 of Republic Act 9136, which states that “An Inter-agency committee… is hereby created and shall immediately undertake a thorough review of all IPP contracts. In cases where such contracts are found to have provisions which are grossly disadvantageous, or onerous to the government, the Committee shall cause the appropriate government agency to file an action under the arbitration clauses provided in said contracts or initiate any appropriate action under Philippine laws.”

Hold bond flotation

To prevent the problem from getting worse, FDC also urged the government to hold its plan to raise P20 billion through bond flotation next year to help service National Power Corporation’s 2011 obligations amounting to $1.2 billion and address PSALM’s level of liabilities which stands at $16.5 billion.

“Should the government follow the abovementioned recommendations, it might not see the need to raise billions of pesos through loans next year,” said Tanchuling.

“By confronting the problem head-on, we are sure that we can have lower electricity rates, and, at the same time, lower debt stock,” he stressed. (30)

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