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Consumer group doubts that ERC chairperson is fit to be next DOE chief

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Consumer group doubts that ERC chairperson is fit to be next DOE chief
Energy Regulatory Commission Chairperson Agnes Devanadera attended a House Committee meeting on May 24, 2021, which sought to lift the expiry period of the Joint Congressional Energy Commission (JCEC).
Screenshot / House of Representatives

MANILA, Philippines — Consumer rights and energy advocacy group Power for People Coalition (P4P) on Wednesday expressed reservations over the possible appointment of Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Chairperson Agnes Devanadera as the secretary of the Energy department, questioning decisions made under her leadership and calling her an "ally of dirty energy."  

Devanadera was recommended for the post by Sen. Imee Marcos, the sister of presumptive president-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., after the ERC chief asked the incoming administration to abolish 12% value-added tax from power generation charges.

At present, Bongbong Marcos and his team have not yet disclosed who exactly they are planning to nominate as DoE chief, who is set to replace outgoing secretary Alfonso Cusi. 

In an emailed statement on Wednesday, P4P Convenor Gerry Arances said that Devanadera should instead be "facing hearings and complaints" for allegedly not fulfilling her obligations as the head of the energy regulator. 

"She failed consumers in her post as ERC chair and we are deeply worried by what she can do or, in this case, cannot do as DOE Secretary that will benefit power stakeholders," he said. 

He claimed that consumers did not benefit under Devanadera's leadership "be it protection from abuse and accountability from power companies, return of correct refunds, resolution of bill shocks from the last few years."

Earlier this month, the ERC ordered distribution utility Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to refund P7.8 billion worth of over-charges to consumers over a period of one year. This means Meralco's residential consumers or those consuming 200 kilowatt-hourss will get a refund of P93.

P4P said that this is merely "chump change" compared to P40 billion reportedly owed by Meralco. P4P describes itself as the largest network of civil society organizations, cooperatives and consumers. The coalition has been criticizing the DOE and ERC for their programs and policies. 

'Unlikely to focus on RE transition'

Arances does not believe that an energy department led by Devanadera will achieve the transition to renewables, which P4P has been pushing for. 

"From policies on power procurement that remain unfair to renewables to the lax imposition of penalties on fossil companies for anomalous services, Devanadera has proven herself to be an ally of coal, gas, and other dirty energy. We're bound to see the DOE remaining fossil friendly with her at its helm," he added. 

According to him, Devanadera's earlier suggestion to convert coal-run plants to gas-fired ones will not bode well for the ramping up of renewables in the country's power mix.

Arances, also the Executive Director of local thinktank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED), said that the next DoE secretary should be someone with a track record in promoting consumer welfare and focus instead on the transition away from fossil fuels to protect Filipinos from the impacts of the climate crisis. 

Philstar.com has reached out to ERC to get Devanadera's reaction on P4P's statement. The story will be updated with her comments. 

In a statement over the weekend, Sen. Imee Marcos said Devanadera is "fit to be the next Energy secretary" after the latter proposed to the next administration to lift the VAT on power generation charges- or the cost of power generated- and keep such tax for power distribution in a bid to lower electricity costs. 

Devanadera is the first female solicitor-general in the Philippines, and was appointed as Justice Secretary before the end of the Arroyo administration. 

The incoming administration, likely to be led by presumptive president Bongbong Marcos, may prioritize incorporating nuclear energy in the power generation mix and possibly reviving the mothballed $2.2-billion Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, among others. — Angelica Y. Yang

RELATED: Nuclear power not what grid needs, former Marcos energy official says in bid for renewables

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