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PNoy gets extra powers

But House action could face Senate opposition

THE House of Representatives on Wednesday night approved on third and final reading a resolution granting special powers to President Benigno Aquino III to address a supposed power shortage, but the measure faces rough sailing in the Senate with the opposition of Senator Sergio Osmeña III.

The House approved Joint Resolution No. 1 via acclamation on second reading and 149 lawmakers later voted for the resolution’s passage over the objections of 18 congressmen, like Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, who said the resolution allowed the suspension of environmental laws.

But Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, chairman of the House committee on energy and co-chair the Joint Congressional Power Commission, said the approved powers would be limited to the use of the Interruptible Load Program that was already being implemented anyway.

Besides, Umali said they ensured that consumers will not have to pay extra when the government’s power reserves fall below the usual requirement around March next year.

“We approved the emergency powers with a ‘no pass-on’ provision. The government will shoulder the additional cost of electricity. We are eyeing Malampaya Funds as subsidy,” Umali said, adding that the cost for additional electricity would be sourced from the Malampaya Fund.

But Colmenares argued that the resolution was not only unnecessary because the Department of Energy itself admitted that the additional energy to be generated will only only cover shortages in reserves and not in the actual power used by consumers.

Morerover, Colmenares said the resolution also allowed the suspension of environmental laws, like the Biofuels Act, Clean Air Act, the Philippine Grid Code, and the Philippine Distribution Code,  which are meant to regulate the price of electricity.

“This is a joint resolution not to cure any shortage of supply. This is a joint resolution to facilitate the establishment of power plants even if they violate our environmental laws and other rules requiring consent, consultation,”  Colmenares told reporters in a news briefing.

“The matter is not really about electricity, but the power to suspend environmental laws and fast-track the application of power plants so they don’t have to comply with the requirements of the law,” he added.

The resolution was meant to empower the President to purchase or rent generating sets that would have cost between P6 billion to P12 billion to prevent massive outages that could  be as long as 3-5 hours over 5 days.

But the DOE later admitted that the additional capacity needed was only to ensure the amount of reserves and not to fill up a shortage on supply.

The DOE said it needs to maintain reserves of 1,004 megawatts to cover for heavier energy usage during the summer months of 2015. Of the figure, 600 megawatts worth of dispatchable reserve power is needed while 404 megawatts will be reserved for contingencies.

After the DOE failed to justify the need to purchase or lease generator sets, the House watered down the proposal to focus more on the ILP.

Osmeña, chairman of the Senate committee on energy, also questioned the need for emergency powers and rescheduled hearings until Senate President Franklin Drilon asked senators to prioritize the deliberations on the budget.

“Right now, all senators are busy to pass the most important law every year, which is the national budget. There are instructions already from the Senate President’s office that there will be no hearings until the national budget is passed,” Osmeña said.

Osmeña also also said he doubted the Senate can tackle the emergency power measure before the end of the year because the measure was serious and complicated and needed to be scrutinized by Congress.

“I think they will mostly have to do with appropriations and the use of the Malampaya fund. So it might not be an amendment or exemption to the [Electric Power Industry Reform Act] but an exemption to the Malampaya fund,” Osmeña said.

On the other hand, Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza blamed Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla for the supposed power crisis and urged the Cabinet officials to resign if he could not solve the problem.

“He should get an emergency exit and not emergency powers,” Atienza said of Petilla, adding that Umali should not blame power consumers for the supposed crisis because the problem was created by Petilla.

“If they already knew that there will be a problem next year, they should have acted on it. There are other alternatives to address the problem. Granting emergency powers is not the solutionm,” Atienza said.

“If our power plants are breaking down, does that not reflect on the persons managing them? Then we should get better and more efficient managers so we can avoid breakdowns like the ones we are facing now,” Atienza said.

On the other hand, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. welcomed the passage of the resolution and stressed that it provided that “additional generating capacity shall be sourced from the Interruptible Load Program” in addition to the power plants that are already in the pipeline.

The ILP program involves asking malls, factories and other establishments to use their own generator sets when the National Grid Corportation of the Philippines expects the supply of electricity to fall short of demand.

Under the ILP, customers with large power loads such as commercial establishments will be asked to operate their own generators when the power grid could not meet power demand and the generator owner would be reimbursed later.

Belmonte encouraged heavy power users like malls, industrial plants and similar big establishmentys to enlist participation in the ILP and that the participants shall be properly compensated by the government.

Umali, meanwhile, maintained the resolution would not result in higher electricity rates for consumers because it specifically rules out buying or leasing generator sets as originally proposed by the DOE.

The special authority given to the President will last only until July 2015 unless earlier withdrawn by the President and upon the recommendation of the Joint Congressional Power Commission.

The House will transmit the approved Joint Resolution to the Senate for reconsideration.

 

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