FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - May 30, 2019 - 12:00am

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling requiring all power supply agreements submitted by the distribution utilities (DUs) to the ERC to undergo a competitive selection process will probably bring us very close to an energy crisis. This is because the additional period required to meet the Court’s requirement could cause power demand to exceed supply.

The ERC, years ago, extended its strict deadline for submitting power supply agreements mainly to enable generating plants to be built as quickly as possible. The Court did not take kindly to that exercise of flexibility.

The Court, of course, has its legal mandate to ensure that regulatory requirements are scrupulously observed. The energy regulators, on the other hand, have the distinct mandate to ensure ample, reliable and lower cost energy supplies to the market. At this point, the two mandates may appear to be at odds.

At any rate, the effect of the Court’s ruling is to push back the schedules for the construction of new generating capacity that our rapidly expanding economy needs desperately. In the clash of institutions, the likely outcome is rotating brownouts.

There should be some room for practicality here. Otherwise our economic growth will be doomed by insufficient power supply.


The leftist groups have found a vocation hindering the construction of new generating capacity and ensuring rightful return on investments. They have lately assembled a cottage industry of sorts out of agitating for impractical solutions to our energy woes.

It was these leftist groups that brought the case to the Supreme Court that competitive selection bidding first be held and the earlier unrealistic deadlines for them to be upheld before any new investment in power generation be awarded. If they scored propaganda points on that one, the petition also brought us a step closer to a power shortage.

When the Meralco held its shareholders meeting the other day, the same leftist groups were out in the street protesting. They demanded the distribution utility invest in “green” power generation. Their position makes the choice between conventional and “green” power generation a binary one. That is untenable.

Nobody disagrees with the adoption of “green” technologies. But at their present state, they are neither reliable nor cheap.

Too, there are some hard choices to be made. Solar farms, for instance, require vast amounts of land to be devoted to harvesting solar power. That is land that will be taken from agriculture. Even then, they will not be able to supply the baseload generating capacity our economy needs.

Anyone who has installed solar panels in their homes as a nod to renewable energy knows the facts best. The expensive panels meet some of our needs some of the time. They cannot supply all our power needs all of the time.

Eventually, we hope, renewable energy generation should mature and constitute a larger share of our total electricity production. Today, however, it will be unwise to invest everything in “green” technology.

Those groups in the leftist-led protest industry should not lull us into making dogmatic choices in the critical power sector. In this sector, the hard choices ought to be made according to the best engineering and utilities economics we could muster.

These are the same dogmatic groups that demand we be ensured adequate water but oppose the construction of new dams. Maybe they want our water needs to be produced out of thin air.

Incoming Meralco president Rey Espinosa took issue with the “demonization” of the distribution utility by the know-nothings who scream simplistic slogans in the streets. He reminds them Meralco is doing its best to diversify the sources of power it distributes to the most energy-intensive region in the country. But the company must, above all, abide by its mandate of delivering reliable and cheaper energy to its customers.

If the protesters think they know better, they should put their money where their mouths are. They should invest in the most fashionable “green” technologies and participate in the competitive selection bidding where generation costs are the most critical criterion.


Among the (hopefully temporary) casualties of the Supreme Court ruling strictly implementing competitive selection bidding are very modern power plants planned for Atimonan and Mauban in Quezon province. The projected plants use “ultra-supercritical coal-fired technology.”

In particular, the state-of-the-art high-efficiency, low emission (HELE) plant to be built in Atimonan is expected to provide an additional 1,200 MW to the Luzon grid. After all the red- and yellow-alerts raised the past weeks, this is supply we needed yesterday but will be available a few years down the road – depending on the vagaries of the slow march of the approvals process.

To be sure, the leftist and church-based groups are vigorously objecting to the construction of these cutting edge plants. But the residents in these two municipalities are eagerly looking forward to the economic benefits of hosting the plants.

Former congressman Danilo Suarez is now incoming governor for Quezon. People voted for him, no doubt, because he has the political gravitas to get things done. This includes winning the much-awaited approvals for the two major power plants.

Suarez calls on those protesting the plants to be a little more “realistic.” The two plants represent the most efficient way to generate the energy we so urgently need. That efficiency will spread across the board, benefitting small and large businesses and lifting economic prospects for his constituency.

Like Meralco’s Espinosa, Suarez is up against the dogmatic environmentalists who would most likely bring us to darkness. We can only wish him luck.

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