Lawmakers studying proposal to give Aquino emergency powers

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

ADMINISTRATION lawmakers are studying a proposal by the Department of Energy (DOE) urging President Benigno Aquino III declare a state of emergency in the power sector this year to address a potential supply shortfall in Luzon by summer of next year.

House committee on energy chairperson Reynaldo Umali said that they are now studying the possibility of giving emergency powers to Aquino but Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla should first confirm that there really an impending electricity shortage by next year.

"Before we can do this, we have to know and establish that there is a crisis. Secretary Petilla only says that the supply [of electricity] is thin, but whether or not there is a crisis is another matter," Umali said.

He noted that under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira), Congress must "provide terms and condition through joint resolution for the granting of emergency powers" to Aquino

Epira prohibits the government from putting up new power plants but section 71 of the same law states that "the President, upon determination of an imminent shortage of supply of electricity, may ask Congress for authority through a joint resolution, to establish additional generating capacity under such terms and conditions as it may approve."

Earlier, Petilla admitted that the country has a thin power supply in 2015 and longer rotating brownouts are expected in the summer months that usually begin in March and ends in May, saying additional generating capacity is needed to avert a power crisis next year.

Petilla has proposed the granting of emergency powers to the President to deal with the impending power crisis in the form of contracting modular power plants from Dubai and the United States that can be installed in four to five months.

Valenzuela City Representative Sherwin Gatchalian expressed support for Petilla's proposal since no new power plants can be installed in the next two years. He said that natural gas pipe plants could take two to three years to build while coal-fed plants take three to five years to install and become operational.

"I fully support the granting of emergency powers to deal with the power crisis but this should be specifically defined by Congress through a joint resolution by the House and Senate. Congressional approval is needed to allay fears of possible executive abuse of emergency powers," Gatchalian said.

He noted that since Epira prohibits the government from setting up its own power plant, "it is more practical to rent modular powers plants that are easy to install and disassemble once the power crisis is over."

Gatchalian said the power deficit threatens to diminish the country's 83-percent total electrification rate, which already lags behind Thailand's at 88 percent and Vietnam's at 98 percent.

The lawmaker from Valenzuela earlier said that the rotational brownouts in the capital and in nearby provinces are indicators of the likely power crisis, as existing power plants cannot supply the energy requirements.

He also noted that President Aquino has tried to downplay reports of a looming power crisis by announcing that various companies are set to build new plants in Luzon between now and 2016.

"The constructions would produce a total generation capacity of 2,412 megawatts (MW), which would be more than the projected additional energy demand from the Luzon grid in two years," Gatchalian said.

Isabella Representative Rodito Albano III also supported the call for Aquino to declare a state of emergency in the energy sector to allow the government to ably respond to the power supply shortage in the country.

Albano urged Malacanang to convene the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) to discuss among others the possibility of granting emergency powers to the Chief Executive.

He added that if possible, Judicial Executive Legislative Advisory and Consultative Council (Jelacc) meetings should also be conducted to allow the three branches of government to also discuss and look into the legal aspect of the proposed emergency powers for the President.

"We urge Malacanang convene the Ledac or the Jelacc to study the possibility and the legality of granting emergency powers to the President to address the power problem. We should involve all sectors of society, all branches of government to set clear parameters of the President's emergency powers," Albano said.

Albano, a former executive director of the Joint Congressional Power Commission (JCPC), however, said that the emergency power to be given to the President should only be for limited time only, with well-defined parameters and safeguards against abuses especially in the grant of concessions and incentives to power supply investors, rate setting and power purchase agreements.

"A state of emergency in the power sector can definitely hasten the approval and therefore establishment of new power generation projects. The paper chase alone needs about 162 signatures before the construction of a new power plant can be started in the country," Albano said.

"Any congressional action on the proposal to grant emergency powers to the President will have to deal entirely with solutions to solve the power supply shortages and should contain very specific safeguards to ensure that these emergency power will be abused at all," Albano added.

Meanwhile, Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone urged Congress to prioritize the passage of House Bill 3743 to address the energy problems.

Under the bill, the President is authorized to enter into a negotiated contract for the immediate construction of new government-owned and controlled power plants, under the National Transmission Corporation, which shall serve as standby and ancillary generators/power plants for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

The bill also provides that the President is authorized to suspend, whenever necessary to lower the cost of electricity, the imposition and collection of value-added tax on electric power. (Sunnex)

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