Problematic electric cooperatives

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

Mired in corruption scandals, plagued with inefficiencies, and often neglected by their owners, many of the country’s electric cooperatives have become problematic sources of power for consumers in the provinces.

I am not imagining this. I have covered the energy beat — on and off since the time of former energy secretary Vince Perez — and the corruption scandals that surround ECs are endless as they are varied.

You hear of consumers complaining of inefficient operations, of signature blackouts, and of owners asking for vehicles from power companies.

Of course, there are also efficient ECs, but they seem to be outnumbered by the bad ones.

In Palawan recently, the failure of a cooperative to deliver electricity to its service area drew President Duterte’s ire.

Now it seems the situation is happening in other parts of the country.

The province of Occidental Mindoro, for instance, is now suffering from a power shortage following the suspension of operations of Occidental Mindoro Consolidated Power Corp. (OMCPC), the main supplier in the province.

Only the municipality of Paluan in the same province, which is serviced by Solar Para Sa Bayan (SPSB), has electricity.

Solar as solution?

It now seems a more palatable alternative to inefficient, yet heavily subsidized, coops. The situation in Paluan is a good argument against those criticizing SPSB franchise.

SPSB is currently applying for a franchise at the House of Representatives to make it easier for the firm to establish solar micro grids that would supply power in underserved areas throughout the Philippines. The bill is now going through amendments.

Consumers are supporting it

As I noted in a previous column, a Pulse Asia Survey conducted in June found out that 82 percent favor new options for electric utilities.

Support for new electric service providers is consistent across all ages, classes, and geographies, with ratings in favor at 88 percent in NCR, 78 percent in Luzon, 84 percent in Visayas, and 83 percent in Mindanao.

The survey also found that 60 percent of Filipinos are dissatisfied with electric prices.

There are also over 100,000 Filipinos that have also signed a petition in support of the passage of the bill and the entry of SPSB into their towns.

But whether or not SPSB is, indeed, the perfect solution to problematic coops remains to be seen.

What is clear is that the problem of inefficient coops must be addressed.

As I write this, it is not yet clear when power in Occidental Mindoro will resume.

OMCPC, which supplies about 70 percent of the electricity in the province since April 2017, said power could only resume when regulators have approved OMCPC’s authority to avail of a government subsidy.

As a customer of the Occidental Mindoro Electric Cooperative Inc. (OMECO), OMCPC said it needs to collect power subsidy from Napocor first to be able to continue servicing its fuel needs.

“Because OMECO customers enjoy a subsidized electricity rate, OMCPC needs to collect this subsidy from Napocor in order to fund its operations, particularly to purchase fuel for the power plant,” it said.

Unfortunately, the Energy Regulatory Commission has not yet issued an order granting OMCPC the authority to collect subsidy from Napocor.

Due to this documentary deficiency, OMCPC can no longer purchase fuel to continue its operations.

“We, therefore, deeply regret to announce that OMCPC will have to temporarily suspend its operations until such time ERC has approved OMCPC’s authority to avail of the subsidy,” OMCPC said in its advisory.

Enrique Razon versus PECO

In Iloilo, there is a similar situation which tycoon Enrique K. Razon vowed to solve.

He said four generations of Ilonggos have suffered under the inefficient service of Panay Electric Company Inc. or PECO.

“Complaints include poor services, overcharging of power bills with some reaching more than 1,000 percent, accumulated billings due to erroneous meter readings, technical failures, poor customer service, high electricity rates, constant power interruptions and unexplained charges. Clearly, it is time that the Ilonggos are relieved of their misery,” Razon said.

PECO has denied the charges and has vowed to go to court to retain control of its area.

However, the cooperative has virtually lost the legislative franchise already after the Senate approved on third and final reading the franchise of Razon’s Monte Oro Resources & Energy Inc.

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi told me, that he would intervene in the PECO mess, if consumers suffer from blackouts.

I hope the power outages won’t happen. That would be such a nightmare.

This is not the dark ages. A steady source of electricity should be basic for each and every Filipino, wherever home may be — whether it’s in a far-flung village or in a posh residential district.

Iris Gonzales’ e-mail address is [email protected]




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