ENERGY Secretary Jericho Petilla said President Benigno Aquino III is now seriously considering emergency powers from Congress to address the impending energy crisis in 2015 although Palace officials played coy and would not say if or when the President would do so.
“We are very aware of the urgency of the situation. The President has been informed already about the energy situation in the past months even before [the State of the Nation Address],” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
“One thing that we want to emphasize is that we are going to pro-actively handle the situation. That’s why we’re recognizing all the concerns of the power sector, as well as the stakeholders, including the citizens,” he added.
Lacierda made the remarks after Petilla reported on Thursday that there were few takers to his Interruptible Load Program, where large power users will be paid if they agree to go off the grid and use their generator sets during peak load hours.
Petilla said he was only able to get a commitment of 27 megawatts (MW) from the private sector although Manila Electric Company reported last May that mall owners have committed a total of 110 megawatts to the program.
But Lacierda was non-committal when reminded that Aquino only has until the end of the month to decide whether to implement emergency measures to address that the power crisis that was predicted by experts as early as last year.
“It is still among the measures being eyed by the President among other possible suggestions given the circumstances, but as to the final decision of the President, let’s just wait for him to issue a directive,” Lacierda said.
The idea to grant emergency powers to the President was suggested by at least nine local and foreign chambers of commerce and even labor groups joined the call because of the effects of a power crisis on job generation.
Labor groups also raised the power situation during their pre-Labor Day dialogue with Aquino in April and the President promised that there “will be good news in a couple of days” but there has been no word since.
Last June 18, Petilla convened a task force under the DOE comprised of several stakeholders, but labor groups did not want join the task force because of the supposed lack of coordination among stakeholders.
In July, Petilla, who had repeatedly dodged suggestions to declare a state of emergency in the power sector, finally admitted that Luzon will likely face a power shortfall of between 400 megawatts and 500 MW by summer next year.
Petilla said at least six power plants, capable of producing 400 MW, will likely be online by summer, but that will not be sufficient because other plants are also expected off-line for maintenance.
He agreed with the call of the private sector that it was time for Aquino to declare a state of emergency in the power sector so that he can seek remedies. Aquino, however, has not acted on the proposal.
But Lacierda noted that Aquino mentioned the matter in his State of the Nation Address and he instructed Petilla to discuss the matter with the Energy Regulatory Commission, the congressional oversight committee and other stakeholders.
Also in July, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the House of Representatives was willing to grant Aquino emergency powers to address the looming power crisis and the Speaker even criticized Petilla for being late in acknowledging the fact.
“[It is] long overdue. Many people [have been] urging him before,” Belmonte said last July in a text message to House reporters.
But Belmonte clarified that Aquino must specify what emergency powers he was seeking. “Exactly what is this emergency power they want? House will surely give it,” he said.
A bill is currently pending at the House of Representatives aiming to grant the President the power to suspend the 12-percent value added tax on electricity whenever necessary.
House Bill No. 3743, filed by Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone, would allow the President to enter into negotiated contracts for the immediate construction of new state-owned power plants to serve as standby generators for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
The President would also be authorized to enter into negotiated contracts for the repair, rehabilitation, improvement or maintenance of existing government-owned power plants, subject to certain requirements, including publication of the plants to be rehabilitated, and the list of interested contractors and their expertise.
But Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares doubted whether emergency powers were the solution to the problem.
“There is no need for emergency powers if the Energy Regulatory Commission and DOE will get their acts together,” Colmenares said. “The Aquino administration should stop crying wolf and once again try to find an excuse for a power rate hike.”
Colmenares said that if the DoE’s reference on plant capacities were accurate, then it should have been addressed a long time ago through the Power Development Plan.
“Is it really supply that is the problem or there are other factors that prevent some capacities from being dispatched, like the supposed collusion between power industry players last year? Up till now the ERC has yet to submit their investigation on the matter,” he said.
Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap hit the supposed irresponsibility and laziness of the government in handling the country’s power requirements.
“Instead of taking the responsibility of building stated-controlled and operated power plants, it resorted to buying more expensive electricity from private power producers that will result to higher charges,” said Hi-cap.
Kabataan Partylist Rep. Ridon also castigated the government, saying it has shown that its concern has never been really about answering a projected power crisis but only the interest of power producers and distributors.
“We can’t allow government to relax environmental laws because of power supply. Our homes cannot have lights while our children suffer from asthma and other respiratory problems. Local governments should be able to exercise their prerogative on any power plant proposal,” Ridon said.
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