Extra powers still hang

House won’t move ‘til scope, parameters defined

HOUSE Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. said Monday President Benigno Aquino III will not easily get the emergency powers being sought by the Energy Department to cope with a looming power shortage in 2015.

For several weeks, Energy Secretary has been clamoring for emergency powers but has yet to submit any proposal to Congress defining the scope and parameters of those powers, Belmonte said.

“So far we have not really sat down with the Energy Department to discuss what they want,” Belmonte said, noting that even the Palace was “not very precise” on what it wanted.

Belmonte said what the House and the Senate have so far is the letter signed by President Aquino officially asking Congess to grant him special powers.

“The DoE has not submitted a draft bill to me. It is Secretary [Pacquito] Ochoa who submitted it unofficially because they are still working on it,” Belmonte said.

“I just want to know exactly in what direction we are working,” Belmonte added.

Belmonte said the proposal for emergency powers would have to go through the usual process of legislation in both houses.

In his letter to Congress, the President said he was seeking emergency powers from Congress to allow him to contract additional generating capacity to address a power shortage next year.

The President also said the Energy Department will continue to solicit participation for its Interruptible Load Program in which large private energy consumers are encouraged to generate their own power during peak hours.

So far, the Energy Department has only been able to get a commitment of 27 megawatts under the program.

Earlier, the Energy Department estimated that the shortage would reach 300 megawatts, which would translate to 20 days of two-hour rotational blackouts in summer.

But Aquino said the power shortage could reach a worst-case scenario of up to 1,000 megawatts.

Petilla, who recommended emergency powers for the President in July, said he hopes to start contracting the additional capacity by October.

Petilla said that government is expected to spend about $20 million per 100 MW of leased capacity per year. He said funding can come from the government royalties from the Malampaya gas field or from the universal charge.

Petilla, who was at the House for the hearing on the budget of his department, said he will meet with Belmonte and other members of the House to brief them on the measure that needs to be passed.

“We hope, at the end of the day we will be able to give Speaker Belmonte a briefing on all the parameters they need. It’s hard to just submit it in one piece of paper because it needs to be explained properly,’ he said.

“The problem is not today, it’s the four months next year,” he said.

Renting modular power plants or generator sets to supply 300MW would cost at least P6 billion for a standard contract of two years. He said the government was also studying the possibility of buying its own generators sets at a cost of P10 billion.

The government has a 300MW and a 350MW unit at Malaya thermal power plant, located in Pililia, Rizal that is expected to provide additional supply to Luzon. But one of these is currently not working.

“These are old plants... if these conk out before summer, then we have a problem,” Petilla said.

The Palace said it is open to other ways to deal with the looming crisis.

“We are open to any other solutions but it has to be in context of the discussion and to make sure that it addresses the problems at hand,” said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.

“What’s important is that we’ll be working with them to make sure the problem is addressed sufficiently,” she added.

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali said the rental of power generator sets to meet the 300MW shortfall would cost taxpayers P6 billion.

For this reason, Umali said the House joint committee on power commission, of which, he is co-chairman, was looking at pushing the interruptible load program instead.

“This way, the pass-on cost to the consumers would not be as expensive as the P6 billion for five weeks only,” Umali said.

Umali said leasing was an expensive option because foreign lessors of generator sets require a minimum contract period of two years, even though the plants are need for only five weeks.

During the panel’s technical working group hearing, Petilla said the country’s power supply would be short by at least 300 MW to 600 MW by the summer of 2015.

For every 100 MW, Petilla told the panel, the government would be spending P1 billion per year.

“Since we need the power generators for only five weeks, it would be unwise to lease those facilities for two years at P6 billion when we can ask the other IPP players to tap their own power generators,” Umali said.

Umali said the panel has already discussed the problem with the Philippine Independent Power Producers Association, which was summoned by the committee.

Several foreign firms, most of them based in Japan, also submitted their proposals to the panel.

The Senate contingent, headed by Senator Sergio Osmena III, will have its hearing on Thursday.



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