ERC starts probe on PECO

Danessa Rivera (The Philippine Star) - November 4, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has commenced its probe on Panay Electric Co. (PECO) following a complaint of poorly maintained distribution lines from Iloilo City’s mayor.

The power regulator started investigations last week on a complaint filed by Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas with Malacañang against the threat to public safety by “inadequately maintained lines, power outages and hazardous electric posts” owned by PECO.

Treñas had asked the Office of the President (OP) to direct the ERC to address mounting complaints against PECO, listing down nine incidents of fire that hit PECO’s electricity poles from Oct. 19 to 21 alone based on the report of Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) to City Hall.

The Iloilo City mayor said he was “obliged to take the necessary steps to address the needs of the people considering that the problems and complaints raised against PECO have direct impact not only on the property, but also to the lives of the residents of Iloilo City.”

“While the attention of PECO had been repeatedly called (by the Office of the City Mayor) to address the (complaints), the city is still plagued by the same problems,” Treñas said in his complaint to Malacañang.

Treñas said that as the agency mandated under Republic Act 9136 or the Electricity Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) to handle consumer complaints to ensure promotion of consumer interests, the ERC had been given disciplinary powers to address the numerous consumer complaints against PECO.

During the hearing, a briefing from the BFP was conducted on the safety violation incidents involving PECO as the new distribution utility, MORE Electric and Power Corp., raised the possibility that the numerous pole fires and the prolonged power outages last week in Iloilo City could be part of a deliberate sabotage of the law-mandated transition of electricity distribution to its management from PECO.

The ERC investigation into the safety standard violations of PECO coincided with another investigation by the Department of Energy (DOE) into the twin power blackouts that hit the entire Panay Island and parts of Negros Island from Monday to Wednesday last week.

The DOE probe also included a complaint that PECO did not restore full supply to the entire city until Wednesday evening despite full restoration of supply from the national electricity grid in early morning of Wednesday, Jose Rey Maleza of DOE Visayas said.

PECO’s franchise was not renewed by Congress when it expired on Jan. 19 because of a huge outpour of consumer complaints against PECO’s inadequate response to their problems, especially safety concerns from its ageing distribution system like leaning electric poles, spaghetti-like hanging electricity lines, over-billing that raised their bills by as much as 1,000 percent, and unfriendly and unprofessional consumer complaint personnel.

Instead, Congress granted the distribution franchise to MORE Energy of port magnate Enrique Razon under Republic Act 11212.

To ensure a smooth transition to MORE Energy’s takeover of the distribution system, PECO was allowed by the DOE and ERC to continue operating through its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) until the new power player completes its transition to full operations.

A CPCN requires a power utility to ensure public safety and efficient supply service to the public.

MORE Energy has secured a go signal from the Iloilo Regional Trial Court (ETC) to expropriate PECO’s assets, but the 95-year old utility firm had asked a Mandaluyong RTC to stop the expropriation.

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