Senators slam DOE, ERC over power alerts

Senators slam DOE, ERC over power alerts

By: - Reporter / @MRamosINQ
/ 05:15 AM May 15, 2024

Sen. Francis Escudero and Sen. Raffy Tulfo

Senators Francis Escudero and Raffy Tulfo

MANILA, Philippines — Senators on Tuesday dressed down energy regulators for their failure to physically inspect power plants and act on applications for new energy facilities that would have averted the power outages in several areas across the country.

They took to task the senior officials of the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) after they admitted that they were only conducting “desk monitoring” of power plants instead of personally checking the conditions of these facilities.


At a Senate hearing on the frequent issuance of red and yellow alerts since April, Sen. Francis Escudero said the two agencies had been sitting on the processing of permits for the construction of new energy generators.


READ: Record PH heat drives power supply alerts, bares grid weaknesses

He said the inordinate delay had deprived the country of as much as 2,250 megawatts of electricity.

“If these new power plants [had become operational], we would not have suffered these red and yellow alerts,” Escudero said at the hearing of the Senate committee on energy.

READ: Luzon, Visayas grids on yellow alert on May 14

“I really don’t understand why the approval for new power plants is being blocked or prolonged,” he said, adding that the shortage in energy sources had resulted in more expensive electricity rates in the country.

“The basic principle of supply and demand applies to the energy sector. If there’s a lack [of] power supply, the cost of electricity is high. If there’s plenty of supply, electricity rates are cheaper,” he explained.


Escudero directed the regulators to submit to the Senate panel the status of all pending applications for proposed power plants.

‘Not doing your job’

Sen. Raffy Tulfo, the panel chair, likewise quizzed the ERC and DOE officials on their monitoring of the maintenance operations of generating plants following the series of power outages.

“We have heard reports that the power plants bogged down because they are already too old and not properly maintained. These are the reasons why we are having outages,” Tulfo said.

Fielding questions from Tulfo, ERC Director Sharon Montañer admitted that the commission was not conducting regular maintenance inspections of power plants.

“So it could take 10 years, 50 years, or 100 years before you carry out [the] inspection, and that’s okay with you? That’s the cause of our problems,” Tulfo told Montañer.

“You are not doing your job there in the ERC. Like vehicles, power plants should be well-maintained for them to function properly,” he added.

Montañer later clarified that they actually inspect power plants before the ERC approves their rate applications and five years after the start of their operation.

“Do you think that’s enough?” Tulfo asked the ERC official.

“Ideally, [the inspection should be conducted] once a year,” Montañer replied. “Admittedly, what we do is desk monitoring based on the benchmarks that we set.”

Escudero said nine out of 10 outages in the past three years were actually due to unplanned shutdowns of power plants.

On April 16 alone, he said power plants in Luzon had eight planned outages and 35 unplanned outages, while those in Visayas and Mindanao had a total of 58 unplanned shutdowns.

The ERC official admitted that the commission did not have personnel assigned to visit the actual sites, adding that it only depends on the reports submitted by generating companies.

“It’s good if they will declare against their interest and say that there is something wrong with their plants. And they usually don’t,” Escudero said.

“So they will say everything is good and dandy. These are private corporations that are for profit. Because you are dependent on their submissions, nobody actually from ERC or even the DOE goes to the plant,” he added.

‘Limited staff’

Montañer said the ERC had formed an ad hoc group late last year to monitor the performance of power plants and to check their operations remotely.

This incensed Tulfo, who said: “Desk monitoring from the air-conditioned room of your inspector? That’s BS. What I am trying to say here is [that] there should be someone, an expert on power plants, who would go there physically and inspect.”

Escudero noted that, unlike in the private sector, government regulators did not have experts who had a full understanding of the operations of power facilities.

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Montañer pointed out the “limited number of staff” in her agency.

TAGS: desk monitoring, DoE, ERC, power alerts, Sharon Montañer

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