Blackouts linked to corporate greed

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Energy blackouts amplified the heat brought in by the summer weather that no one in the metro is fond of. Conveniently enough, these took place on the hottest days so far this year. In a city still reeling and traumatized by the recent water crisis, people are left with more questions on when the suffering will end, as they are left helpless with the absence of any clear timeline. Explanations by authorities are too technical to be understood by the common folk who expect the provision of basic services from the government.

“Oligarchs have controlled the power sector and this is evident in the rundown of the power plants that experienced “unplanned” outages.

The Department of Energy (DoE) is not to be blamed for they have been working round the clock coordinating the power sector and the different agencies in providing the best services available. It is difficult to run a fleet of dilapidated power plants that oddly filed for maintenance repairs on coinciding times, coupled with the expected, though “unplanned” outages of the other unfit power plants. Imagine running an office with aging staff, nearing retirement age, who agree among each other to file their leaves, both announced and unannounced, at the same time? The effect would be lesser output, causing higher demand in a captive market, bringing about a dictation of price, which leads to an immediate windfall. (To note: Monitoring and investigating market collusion falls within the ambit of the Philippine Competition Commission, not DoE.)

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi was correct in calling for an extensive investigation to assure that the outages do not affect the market prices. Red alerts and yellow alerts were timely issued with specific time periods. To simplify, a yellow alert happens when the energy consumption has met the reserves, or in case a power plant goes down, there will still be ample supply for energy, similar to bursting a tire when with a spare in hand. A red alert, on the hard, happens if the consumption has met contingency reserves, so any failure on the part of the power plants will equate to widespread brownouts, i.e., bursting tire without a spare.

Oligarchs have controlled the power sector and this is evident in the rundown of the power plants that experienced “unplanned” outages. This suspicious relationship between big business and government regulators was highlighted in the recent controversies surrounding the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) made public with the suicide of one its directors.

In November 2016, ERC Director Francisco Villa committed suicide due to the immense pressure he felt with the prevalence of corruption within the agency. In his three suicide notes, Villa, who was the chair of the ERC’s Bids and Awards Committee, implicated PNoy appointee, former ERC Chair Jose Vicente Salazar, to bid rigging and certain anomalous Iloilo contracts, which we can probably link with the century-old PECO franchise stronghold that was recently broken for decades of bad electrical service. The suicide brought a dark age in the ERC, to the point of a standoff between Salazar and all the commissioners, stalling work operations for about two years. Salazar, known to be in cahoots with a certain power conglomerate, has since been fired by President Duterte and the ERC is back to normal operations, but now with a thick backlog, under the esteemed leadership of ERC Chair Agnes Devanadera, former Solicitor General during the Arroyo administration, who recently said that ERC has over 600 Power Service Applications (PSA) to resolve this year.

The Senate and the House are expected to file the appropriate resolutions for their respective investigations in aid of legislation (and reelection). This issue has given new campaign sound bites to candidates this coming election. Perennial frontrunner Sen. Grace Poe said it succinctly, “No water, no electricity, no Internet. This is already calvary and it’s still a week before Holy Week. Penitence came early for the public.” Other legislators have been more litigious — Bayan Muna partylist filed a petition before the Supreme Court to nullify PSA entered into with Meralco for its failure to comply with the competitive selection process back in 2016, another issue inherited from Salazar.

Given the wide political spectrum our legislators have, we hope that they remain as writers and re-writers of our laws and revisit the Electric Power Industry Reform Act law and the Public Services Act, for their immediate updating. While they’re at it, they can look into other applications for power franchises, hopefully focused on renewable energy. Although conspiracy theorists have been saying that the rotational brownouts are appetizers for the huge blackout that is yet to come. It makes one wonder also why none of the politicians are mentioning the possibility of having a brownout during election day, less than a month from now. We will find out soon enough.

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