DoE may make switch to retail suppliers mandatory

Posted on April 24, 2017

THE Department of Energy (DoE) is now inclined to requiring big consumers to source power from retail electricity suppliers (RES), in a reversal of its stance that previously called for a voluntary switch from distribution utilities.

“If it’s not going to be mandatory, there might not be enough players that will enter, so it might be useless,” Undersecretary Felix William B. Fuentebella told reporters, referring to regulations issued by the DoE and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) that called for retail competition and open access (RCOA) in the sector.

Mr. Fuentebella’s statement is a turnaround from the DoE’s previous stand that those consuming electricity above a pre-set threshold should switch to sourcing their supply voluntarily from a licensed RES.

Cases have been filed since last year questioning the legality of the DoE and ERC rules, with the Supreme Court issuing in February a temporary restraining order (TRO) putting on hold the mandatory switching of those with an average peak consumption of 750 to 999 kilowatts (kW). The mandatory switch would have taken effect on June 26, 2017. The voluntary switching of those using at least 1-megawatt (MW) remained in effect.

Mr. Fuentebella said DoE officials were in talks with ERC commissioners on the legality as well as the “practicality” of their stand. He said the ERC officials explained the need to look at the “numbers” to make the rules effective.

But the common stance of the policymakers and the regulators was to let the high court decide on the matter, he said, adding that a motion of reconsideration has already been filed with the court.

Separately, Sherwin T. Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate committee on energy, said his office was in the process of reviewing the RCOA provisions in Republic Act No. 9136, or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) of 2001, the law that restructured the energy industry.

“We are now in the process of reviewing the transcripts and the spirit of RCOA during its initial deliberation in the Senate and Congress,” he said.

“I put this question to JCPC,” he said, referring to the Joint Congressional Power Commission.

He said his suggestion to Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco, the House of Representatives energy committee chairman, was for them to issue a JCPC resolution on their opinion. JCPC was created by law to set the guidelines and overall framework to monitor and ensure the proper implementation of EPIRA.

“We have to research first what exactly was the spirit of the discussion,” he said. “Definitely we will issue a resolution and hopefully that resolution can be used in either the Supreme Court case or it can be outright be used already.” -- Victor V. Saulon