As members of the House Committee on Energy meet in Mindanao today to discuss the power shortage in the region and the proposal to grant Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo emergency powers to address the issue, the Freedom from Debt Coalition staged simultaneous protest actions in Davao, Cebu and Manila, blaming government incompetence and the very policy that was enacted to address the energy problem.

In a statement, FDC said that the Republic Act 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) is turning out to be ineffectual in breaking the wild swings of power shortage and excess capacity that have characterized the power sector for the longest time, and that have made electricity increasingly expensive and less affordable and accessible to the people.

“The government cannot just repaint a scenario of a power crisis which has been there for more than a decade now then cast the blame on climate change — or worse, God,” said FDC.

Energy officials have been blaming the El Niño phenomenon for the shortfall of electricity supply in Mindanao.  Some lawmakers are calling for the imposition of emergency rule in Mindanao to address the power crisis in the island in time for the May 10 elections and beyond.

“Let us not forget that giving the President emergency powers allows her to sign contracts with independent power producers (IPPs) and elude public biddings. Let us be reminded that the cost of electricity skyrocketed from the early 90s until now due to the onerous IPP contracts made during the Ramos administration,” FDC said.

The group added that the proposed quick fix for the Mindanao shortage can only be worse with the government willing to charge the Mindanaoan’s P18 - P21/kWh more for the leased modular generator sets.

EPIRA

“Nine years ago, we were told that the privatization of Napocor would make the power sector more efficient, competitive and affordable. Instead, we are worse off now than when Mrs. Arroyo signed EPIRA into law — which was a bad start to begin with,” said Job Bordamonte, FDC advocacy coordinator.

EPIRA bars the government from investing in additional capacity in generation, transmission and distribution, except in situations where no private investments in new capacity were coming in.

“Yet the very structures that EPIRA created remained well within the context of a highly monopolized industry controlled by a few powerful families who successfully lobbied to insert provisions in EPIRA favorable to them,” said FDC.

“EPIRA did not remove the crooked syndicates, the oligopolists, the political power players, the big business groups, both local and foreign. It did not put an end to rent-seeking, deal-making, price manipulation and market abuse. It did not require an independent, non-politicized and highly competent regulatory body. It did not create a level playing field. EPIRA did not empower consumers,” FDC stressed.

“Because of EPIRA, the country still has one of the most expensive power rates in the world while service remains poor and unreliable,” FDC said.  

Incompetence

Almost every official in the energy sector attributed the Mindanao power problem to the region’s heavy dependence on hydro-electric power, which becomes a problem when there is a drought.

“We all know that during the dry months, there will be diminished capacity for hydro-electric power. This is significantly reduced in a time of El Niño. The question is: Can the government foresee El Niño? It can, both in the long and short runs,” said FDC.

“The government should have worked out the reserve capacity needed for Mindanao in the months – not years – that hydro-electric power cannot be relied upon,” said FDC, adding: “The next thing it should have done was to explore non-carbon, non-nuclear, non-hydro baseload options for Mindanao.”

“But, has the government done this? None at all. This proves the government’s incompetence to deal with this kind of issue,” said FDC.

Protest actions

In Davao City, around 100 members of FDC - Davao marched to the venue of the public hearing conducted by the House Energy Committee. Outside the Apo View Hotel stood two women holding gas-lamps and electric bills they could no longer afford, dramatizing the state of electric power consumers under nine years of EPIRA.

In the said hearing, the group asked the panel to make public the technical audit regarding the actual capacity of the existing power plants posted in the DOE website (as of April 2009) especially the 712.48MW NPC-IPP power plants which enjoy take-or-pay provisions as well as the level of efficiency for transmission power systems and structure in Mindanao grid.

In Cebu City, members of FDC – Cebu stage a picket outside the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Visayas office.

In Quezon City, FDC members trooped to Napocor to focus public attention on the failure of EPIRA and of the Arroyo administration to secure the country’s energy future.

The group called for a new energy framework outside of EPIRA – one that would ensure not only energy security but also universal access to electricity, serve the overall development and environmental agenda of our communities, and truly empower consumers. (30)

FDC Chapters

chapters