13 years after, Epira remains ‘work in progress’—solon
MANILA, Philippines — Thirteen years since its implementation, the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) remains to be a “work in progress,” a lawmaker lamented.
“The ensuing eight months of my chairmanship, and of almost weekly committee hearings, numerous briefings by, and meetings with all power stakeholders, revealed to me that indeed, Epira is still a work in progress,” Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali said in his privilege speech before the House of Representatives.
Umali, who chairs the House energy committee, added that Epira is “still working on the structural and organizational challenges for an effective management of the power sector. ”
“Yes, Epira has laid the foundation for reforms in the power sector, but is still striving to put the necessary regulations and processes to address the operational concerns of the sector,” he said.
Epira or Republic Act 9136 seeks to “accelerate the total electrification of the country,” as well as “ensure transparent and reasonable prices of electricity in a regime of free and fair competition.”
Despite Epira’s promise to bring down the costs of electricity through fair competition, power supply remains tight, especially during the dry season, Umali noted.
“Liberalization and deregulation were supposed to bring in more investors in order to effect real competition in the power sector and increase capacity,” Umali said.
But power reserve remains thin, especially as power capacity stands at 16,250 megawatts (MW) against the current demand of 15,193 MW, according to the Philippine Energy Plan 2012-2030, Umali said.
He also said though the country’s power capacity is expected to increase by 60 percent to 25,800 MW, it is still short of the projected demand of 29,330 MW by 2030.
“In fact, of the 60 percent projected increase in capacity in 2030, equivalent to 9,550 MW, only 1,800 megawatts has so far been committed,” Umali added.
Umali also scored the gaps in the country’s total electrification under the Epira.
He said as of June 4, at least 33,047 sitios (subvillages) remain without power.
“Many municipalities in Lanao del Sur and barangays in other parts of the Philippines, are still to be energized,” Umali said.
Chronic power shortages also resulted in price increases, making the Philippines the ninth in the world with the highest electricity rates, and the highest in the region, he said.
“We still have power shortages and power rate hikes which resulted in the horrendous blackouts and power outages that largely affected economy and business and compounded people’s sufferings and difficult situations,” Umali said.
The lawmaker also said process for securing permits to build power plants is a “tedious process.”
This makes building power plants span four to five years, when in the United States it only takes 45 days.
“Seemingly, response of government and its various agencies tasked under the law seem to be too slow, reactive, and somewhat disincentivizing which explain why investments in power generation remain anemic,” Umali said.
Umali said these are the reasons for the need to amend the Epira. The lawmaker has filed House Bill 4479 which seeks to amend the 13-year-old law.
“Indeed, much is left to be desired to fulfill the promise of Epira for a sufficient and reasonably priced power,” he added.
Calls to amend or junk Epira heightened after the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) was accused of colluding with power generators to jack up the cost of electricity in the spot market. Meralco’s proposed power rate hike, said to be the highest in history, was stalled by the Supreme Court amid public outcry.