Ten lawmakers push for power rate inquiry, mayor seeks ERC help

Ten lawmakers are pushing for a congressional inquiry on the increases in electricity rates in Negros Occidental and Iloilo, while Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia is appealing to the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to act on the matter that has been exacerbated by a damaged National Grid Corporation of the Philippines submarine cable.

Seven Negros Occidental and three Iloilo lawmakers are calling for an inquiry on the increase of the power rates of the electric cooperatives in their areas, Rep. Francisco “Kiko” Benitez (Negros Occidental, 3rd District) said Friday, September 17.

“We want to determine what is causing the increase in electricity rates and what we can do to minimize the cost on consumers. We want to ease the financial burden of our constituents at a time when business and household income are affected because of the pandemic,” Benitez, principal author of Resolution No. 2206, said.

The resolution of Benitez was co-authored by representatives Greg Gasataya – Bacolod, Gerardo Valmayor Jr. – first district, Leo Rafael Cueva – second district, Juliet Marie Ferrer – fourth district, Ma. Lourdes Arroyo – fifth district and Genaro Alvarez Jr. – sixth district of Negros Occidental, Julienne Baronda – Iloilo City, and Lorenz Defensor – third district and Michael Gorriceta – second district of Iloilo province.

Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia in a letter to Agnes Devanadera, Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) chairperson, on September 1, also asked her to immediately look into the increase in power rates in service areas under the Central Negros Electric Cooperative (CENECO).

He hopes ERC identifies possible interventions that would result in the lowering of power rates to give some relief to consumers facing a lot of difficulties in the face of the current health crisis, Leonardia said.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) accidentally damaged the submarine cable of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) in Amlan town, Negros Oriental, sometime in June that consequently cut off the island’s power supply from Cebu, he said.

The incident caused a halt in transmission of power supply from Cebu to nine Negros and Panay-based electric cooperatives or distribution utilities, prompting the NGCP to activate its expensive-to-operate diesel–powered plants to cover the requirements of the cooperatives in the region which serve a total population of close to 8 million people, Leonardia said.

Leonardia said that sourcing out supply via the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) to avoid massive outages resulted to the spiraling cost of power that the utility firms consequently passed on to consumers, further causing additional burden on the people, who have yet to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The exorbitant rate is reflected in their August billing, Leonardia said.

Ceneco’s average residential rate per kWh was P9.54 in June, P10.49 in July, P12.37 in August and P12.2602 in September.

The electric cooperatives have had no choice but to ensure that supply is stable even if they have had to source it out from high-priced WESM rate that also charges line rental and related administrative cost, among others, Leonardia told Devanadera.

WESM rates were at P3 to P9 per kWh prior to the damage to the submarine cable, and have since soared to P9 to P32 per kWh, Danny Pondevilla, and CENECO acting general manager said.

Leonardia said he hopes the NGCP and the DPWH would be able to fix the damaged submarine cable at the soonest time possible and not wait until January 2022 as indicated earlier so as not to further prolong the woes of the consuming public.

The mayor furnished Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar and Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, copies of his letter to the ERC chief.*

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