Amending EPIRA a priority of Congress

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 06 2014 07:29 PM | Updated as of Feb 07 2014 03:29 AM

MANILA -- Senate and House leaders have agreed to prioritize amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) after the recent power rate hike and amid fears of power outages.

This, after congressional leaders met today to thresh out a common legislative agenda.

House Speaker Sonny Belmonte confirmed they discussed EPIRA amendments today.

Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said: "Consensus is more amendments but what specific amendments. The views of chair of the 2 committees (of energy of the House and Senate) will be invaluable. Di pwede sabihin medium o long term effects naghahanap ng instant relief."

Cayetano feels the EPIRA failed to deliver on its promise of cheaper power when it was passed years ago. "When we passed 10-15 years ago, yung pangako bababa ang presyo. Over the last 10 years over 130%, since 2002 more than 100%. In December alone 100% tinaas sa Meralco franchise areas."

He said lawmakers are studying expanding open access. He pointed out that open access is only limited now. Open access means consumers can choose the generation company from which they will buy power, instead of the current setup where consumers are confined to what the distribution utility, like Meralco, is going to buy.

"Kung mapapaikli, parang Amerika. Bawat bahay hindi ka mapipilitan o walang choice sa Meralco at Meralco walang choice kundi kontrata. There will be 3 companies coming to you, eto presyo niya."

Cayetano's personal proposal is a "floating" value added tax scheme for power. "Pag mataas cost ng fuel ibaba 6-3% VAT. Pag mababa, akyat 12%. Di mawawalan ng pondo gobyerno."

Another is targeted subsidies for certain businesses.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said, "Napag-usapan namin kanina hindi pa namin alam specific. There's agreement na kung may dapat i-focus and how to make sure there will be stronger regulation."

Gonzales said a form of regulation would be imposing in the whole sale electricity spot market something like the mechanism in the stock exchange which suspends trading when prices are soaring.

The recent power rate hike has been blamed by power companies on the maintenance shutdowns of the Malampaya gas plant coupled with the unscheduled shutdowns of other plants which supposedly forced them to use more expensive fuel.

Critics, however, alleged that power industry players colluded to jack up the prices of power in the WESM by taking advantage of the plant shutdowns last year.