DOE probes 'surprising' power rate hike

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

MANILA (Updated) -- The increased power rates imposed by Manila Electric Company (Meralco) starting this month not only surprised its 5 million consumers but also the Department of Energy (DOE).

At the hearing of the House committee on energy Tuesday morning, Undersecretary Raul Aguilos said Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla has already ordered an investigation into the rate hike as the computation of Meralco of a P4.15 per kilowatt hour (kwh) increase is far from the agency's anticipated P1.58 per kwh.

Meralco, the country's biggest power distributor, earlier attributed the power rate increase to the one-month shutdown of the Malampaya natural gas field from November 11 to December 10.

"Hindi naman namin intention na i-taon lalo ngayon na maraming pinagdadaanan ang bansa. This is just inevitable. Sana maintindihan kami ng mga tao," Meralco spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga told Sun.Star in a phone interview.

Aside from the scheduled plant shutdown, the DOE said it also monitored forced outages in several power plants, including San Lorenzo, Masinloc, and Calaca, among others.

The unplanned outages, Aguilos said, required Meralco to source power from Wholesale Electricity Spot Market or WESM, which sells electricity at higher rates.

"These (outages) were not anticipated that's why the Secretary ordered an investigation...Yung nagsabay-sabay sila ng power outage mukhang hindi kapani-paniwala," Aguilos told the committee.

On Monday, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has approved Meralco's proposed staggered billing scheme for the power rate increase until March of next year. Under the scheme, the increase will be P2.41 per kwh in December, P1.21 per kwh in February 2014, and P0.53 per kwh in March 2014.

Members of the House energy committee blasted the ERC for failing to uphold the public's interest with the hike in electricity prices.

"Is the increase for public interest? This will result in a domino effect on fares and prices of goods," Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said during the hearing.

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Carlos Zarate asked the ERC whether it could withhold the increase to be implemented by Meralco.

ERC Commissioner Josefina Patricia Magpale-Asirit said delaying the increase would only result into "more burdensome charges."

The DOE said it eyes to complete its investigation over the power rate increase within two weeks.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV also filed a resolution calling for an investigation on the rate hike.

Meanwhile, several cause-oriented groups and human rights advocates find the electricity price increase unfair and not timely.

Sabrina Gacad of Akbayan said on a phone interview with Sun.Star that this move of Meralco violates poor families' right to access electricity and might produce a high number of crimes.

"'Yung kaunting ipapambili ng mga tao ng ihahain sa mesa nila sa pasko ipambabayad pa nila sa kuryente. Sa hirap ng buhay ngayon, kapit sa patalim ang tao magka-pera lang at matustusan ang pang-araw araw na buhay," she said.

Akbayan together with other consumer and labor groups will go to the Department of Justice on Monday to appeal the electricity price increase. (With Third Anne Peralta/Sunnex)

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