Energy consumers repeat challenge to govt on green, just recovery

PRESS RELEASE | MARCH 16, 2021     

     The Power for People Coalition (P4P) on Tuesday urged energy authorities to waste no more time and actually begin building a better-powered ‘new normal’ in the Philippines, with a year already lost to insufficient action in addressing power woes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

      Since an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) took effect in at least a third of the country on March 16 last year, ordinary Filipino consumers and stakeholders had been repeatedly burdened by various problems in the power sector including anomalous billings, rising costs of electricity, disconnections, and grid instability due to energy companies’ failure to adjust to pandemic-related fluctuations in supply and demand.

      “It has been exactly a year since Filipinos were first placed in quarantine, and we’ve lost it implementing recovery measures that are really nothing more than an attempt to get back to old ways of life that favor few, powered by a highly polluting and systematically anti-consumer energy sector, as fast as possible. We reiterate that prioritizing relief for consumers, turning away from destructive power industries like coal, and advancing clean and renewable technologies should be the items making up our energy authorities’ COVID recovery to-do list,” said Gerry Arances, convenor of the clean energy and consumer rights advocacy group.

    P4P turned its attention particularly to the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and Department of Energy (DOE), whose policy directions during this period failed to strengthen the hope of financially challenged and economically displaced consumers’ for a swift recovery, and were unable to spur a just transition to a sustainable and crisis-resilient power sector.

      “The ERC did impose a fine on Meralco for its May 2020 ‘bill shock’ and urged distribution utilities to move their disconnection deadlines by months, which was then a welcome respite for consumers. But we cannot help but think of those as but half-hearted efforts as the commission today has essentially left consumers to fend for themselves from ridiculous rates and rampant disconnections amid lingering challenges in making a living. Meanwhile, it holds its fire in demanding accountability from abusive power firms,” explained Arances.

      According to the group, the DOE is also in need of rebuke from consumers as it continues to shield coal and fossil fuel power firms despite these proving incapable of providing stability to an economy in crisis and likewise unable to supply cheap and sustainable electricity to end-users.

      “The best we got out of DOE from this period is a coal moratorium that generously provides excuses for a majority of coal projects in the pipeline from getting scrapped, and higher renewable energy commitments which, though laudable, may or may not be implemented as the Department tends to stand by its ‘technologically-neutral’ policy which is not so neutral after all. It generally favors destructive energy while dismissing risks like higher rates and pollution as externalities,” he added.

      The coalition furnished several position papers to policymakers including the DOE and ERC for months last year in hopes of having a speedy resolve of consumer woes and reforms for a more sustainable power sector.

      “We will not tire in demanding a change in direction from the ERC and DOE, as Filipinos simply cannot afford a repeat of the suffering brought by the power sector in 2020. As we continue to grapple with COVID-19 with new cases rising and access to vaccines still elusive, the least our energy regulators could do is to power a green and just recovery to the full,” he said.