‘Few large private corporations control both the demand and supply of electricity for sale to consumers.’
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – On the 15th year of the Electric Power Reform Act (EPIRA), progressive groups under Power alliance gathered to share its assessment of the law that transferred much of the country’s power assets to the control of private corporations.
“Fifteen years of EPIRA has not provided relief but unending shortage in supply, inefficiencies in power generation, transmission and distribution, high reliance on imported, dirty energy sources and technologies, and huge profits made by private industry players,” said Feny Cosico, secretary-general of AGHAM.
Power Alliance urged President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to adopt changes in the industry. Specifically, they called for renationalizing the power industry. Scientists and engineers in AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, a member of Power Alliance, asked Duterte to accept their 10-point “Power Agenda” to improve and resolve the chronic problems of the country’s power industry. (See Chart: Peoples’ 10-point Power Agenda)
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate who attended the Power Alliance’s press conference Wednesday, June 8, said they would also push for power reforms in the 17th Congress.
Enough of EPIRA’s failed promises
Zarate recalled that when the Electric Power Reform Act (EPIRA) was enacted 15 years ago, the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government then promised that with it, there would be reliable, affordable, secure electricity; the industry will supposedly be transparent, will supposedly help the country develop and will increasingly turn to renewable energy sources. “All those things did not happen,” Zarate said. In fact, based on his discussion at Power alliance’s conference, EPIRA could not have delivered on that as it is not in the nature of such a law.
EPIRA or Republic Act (RA) 9136 was enacted in 2001, leading to the massive privatization and deregulation of the Philippines’ energy assets. The combined effects of privatizing and deregulating the sector resulted in escalating power rates so that the country now has one of the most expensive electricity in Asia, and has the fifth highest rates in the world, according to research group Ibon.
When it comes to providing cheaper and reliable electricity for our people, “EPIRA is a monumental, electrocuting failure,” said Zarate. “But when it comes to producing profits for the conglomerates that seized control of the country’s power industry, EPIRA is apparently a success.”
Zarate explained that no thanks to EPIRA, private power oligarchs now control the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. “Few large private corporations control both the demand and supply of electricity for sale to consumers,” he said, recalling the effect of that on rates as exemplified by Meralco’s unprecedented rate hike in December 2013.
“EPIRA’s promised free competition is not true,” Zarate told Bulatlat. By 2014, private corporations are in control of 93 percent of the Philippines’ gross power generation, Ibon said.
The research group said that the top 10 power corporations had combined gross revenues worth P524 billion ($11.43 billion) also in 2014. The Manila Electric Corporation alone took in half of that, or P261 billion ($5.7 billion).
The residential power rates have increased 99 percent from P4.7/kwh ($0.10) in 2000 to P9.7/kwh ($0.21) in 2015, Ibon said.
This happened and will continue to happen, warnedZarate, because with EPIRA, “the ‘unholy alliance’ formed by the conniving government and the big business, whose only purpose is to amass profits, has resulted to the instability of rates and service throughout the years.”
PH still big on dirty energy sources
Contrary to promised increase of renewable energy sources through EPIRA,the country is now even more dependent on dirty energy, Zarate also said.
The outgoing Aquino administration has granted various companies Environmental Compliance Certificates (ECC) allowing the construction of 25 coal-fired power plants, adding to the existing 13 operating plants, said Karl Begnotea, energy campaigner of Kalikasan PNE.
Manwhile, “the government neglected the development of hydro-power plants, solar plants and the like,” said Zarate.
The progressive lawmaker is especially saddened by the fact that the Agus-Pulangi Hydropower Complex in Mindanao, where he hailed from, is sorely neglected now. He told Bulatlat in that it’s now being run only when there is a shortfall in supply of energy by privately controlled power plants. Because of that, the plant, he said, continues to deteriorate. And when it was run, it was not as efficient as it would have if it is running continuously.
Agus-Pulangi is one of the few remaining viable power plants owned by the government. Zarate urged the incoming Duterte administration to preserve and rehabilitate it and the other remaining power assets of the government. Despite EPIRA, he said, these remaining power assets could provide some stability in the energy sector.
“The Duterte administration can promote pro-people renewable energy development by providing subsidies and incentives to communities and consumers who will use energy coming from renewable resources,” Green group Kalikasan PNE said.
Begnotea of Kalikasan PNE added that Duterte has all the opportunity to deviate from the unclean path taken by previous administrations. “He should immediately act on the people’s clamor for a clean, renewable, affordable and people-controlled energy industry,” he said.
In calling on the incoming Duterte administration to halt EPIRA, research group Ibon, a member of Power alliance, urged Duterte to keep his “promise of beginning to transform the energy sector into one that truly fuels households and national development, and does not burden Filipino consumers with excessive bills.”