"WE HAVE nothing to hide."
This was stressed by Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) president Jojit Yap, as she welcomed the move of the Provincial Government to create Task Force Ceneco amid various concerns hounding the local power industry like high electricity cost.
"We would gladly clarify all insinuations and misinformation being thrown against Ceneco," she added.
Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, during the Quarterly Provincial Development Council (PDC) Meeting recently, approved the business sector's request for the creation of the task force.
Metro Bacolod Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MBCCI) Chief Executive Officer Frank Carbon, who represented the business sector in the meeting, said the governor has recognized the need to look at the power overpricing concern raised against Ceneco, which also caters to areas under the jurisdiction of the provincial government.
Lacson told Carbon that he will issue the EO creating the task force so that the Provincial Government can call for a coordination meeting with the Ceneco Board, management, and Third-Party Bids and Awards Committee, among other groups.
"The task force will mainly help Ceneco to explore avenue where we can reduce power cost which will most likely result to lower electricity bills among consumers," he said, adding that the price difference between the contracted cost and lowest calculated bid, which is close to 100 percent, could have been huge savings on the part of households and businesses.
Concerns on alleged overpricing at the recently extended 20-megawatt (MW) power contract for one year of Ceneco with Kepco Salcon Power Corp. (KSPC) were earlier raised by consumer group Power Watch Negros Advocates.
In fact, the group has already brought the issue up to the Department of Energy (DOE).
In a letter to Energy Secretary Eduardo Cusi dated May 29, 2021, a copy of which was obtained by SunStar Bacolod, Power Watch Negros Advocates Secretary-General Wennie Sancho asked the DOE top official to look into the matter that would have an adverse economic impact on the consumers.
Sancho told Cusi that the decision of the Ceneco Board of Directors on the "short-term extension" was made notwithstanding the fact that in the meeting last April 12 of the Competitive Selection Process (CSP) on the procurement of 20 MW baseload supply requirement for 2021 to 2031, there was already a lowest calculated bid of P3.2929 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) from KSPC.
"The Ceneco Board failed to act on this vital concern. Instead, they opted to close this short-term extension at the price of P5.42 to P5.58 per kWh," he added.
The group is also keen on bringing the issue up to the national government particularly at the House of Representatives.
As the business sector, for its part, underscored the "very damaging" impact of expensive power cost during the PDC meeting, Carbon said overpriced power supply contract will affect households mainly by taking food on the table.
It will also prevent businesses to open up and hire more especially during this coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, he said, adding that the task force will concentrate on opening up the avenue for talking so similar woe in the power utility can be prevented in the future.
Ceneco caters to the largest number of electric consumers in the province including those in cities of Bacolod, Bago, Talisay and Silay, and towns of Murcia and Salvador Benedicto.
Its acting general manager and project supervisor laywer Dan Pondevilla welcomed the move of the consumer group, saying that he sees no problem with the consumer group pushing for a Congressional inquiry as well as raising the matter to the DOE.
"It is better to have an inquiry so at least everybody can be heard," he said, adding that "[there was] no overpricing primarily because all rates were approved by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC)."
On May 26, Pondevilla confirmed that the power distribution utility accepted the earlier offer of KSPC for a one-year extension of their power contract.
Pondevilla, however, said the extension should be at a reduced capacity of 20 MW or half of the 40 MW that was previously contracted by Ceneco with the KSPC for 10 years.
"This is the most practical and beneficial on the part of the consumers. Contracting just 20 MW, and not 40 MW, will enable us to maximize our supply and reduce our power rates," he said, reiterating that based on the utility's power supply plan "what we need is just 20 MW."
As this developed, Bacolod City Councilor Wilson Gamboa Jr. proposed a resolution last week, urging Ceneco to consider implementing the CSP for its power supply contract with KSPC.
Gamboa said the result of the bidding should be implemented immediately instead of extending the existing 40-MW power supply agreement at a reduced capacity of 20 MW with the Cebu-based coal-fired power plant.
On the basis of the resolution proposed by Gamboa, the City Council set a public hearing today, June 8.
Councilor Archie Baribar, chair of the committee on energy, said this will be a public hearing on whether the resolution be considered.
Baribar said the endpoint of the hearing is to see if are they going to follow or approve the resolution.
"We will discuss this resolution, ask everyone who has knowledge on this particularly on which is more favorable to the general public, and should we see that it is good to have this resolution passed, we will pass it," he added.
For her part, Yap said the public hearing sought by the City Council would be a proper venue to clarify matters of concern regarding the proposed resolution.
Yap said the Board and management of Ceneco are more than willing to make representations to clarify and discuss such concerns.
"Maybe this would settle once and for all the issues being raised that we believe are all misleading or incorrect information," she added.