Paco Pangalangan, CitizenWatch Philippines Secretary-General and Stratbase ADR Institute Energy Fellow
Just the other day, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) announced the approval yet again of an increase in Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) rates to be collected from consumers.
Starting next month, the National Transmission Corp. (TransCo), which manages the FiT fund, will begin collecting an additional P0.0590 per kilowatt-hour in FiT rates, bringing the rate up to P0.1830 per kWh. The announced rate increase was conveniently tucked behind the news that Meralco customers would be seeing a reduction of 75 centavos per kWh as part of the distribution utility’s nearly P7-billion refund for over-recoveries. While this may cushion the blow of the increase in collections, the refund will last but three months, while the FiT rates will pretty much stay.
FiT, if you recall, was the centerpiece of the Renewable Energy (RE) Act when it was passed in 2008 (Republic Act 9513). The law, which aimed to accelerate RE development in the country, sought to incentivize RE developers by providing them with a guaranteed power rate for the electricity they produced, a long-term contract and priority connection to the grid. To fund the incentive, beginning in 2012 and until today, every electricity consumer pays a uniform FiT rate which is factored into the computation of your monthly power bill.
The allure of the guaranteed power rate over several years had developers scrambling to qualify for FiT when the first round of certifications were handed out. After two rounds, the Department of Energy (DoE) had already exceeded the target allocations for both solar and wind, and as an effect of the increased number of RE providers that were owed incentives, consumers have seen what some say are “very fast adjustments” in the FiT rates charged to them. Currently, consumers pay P0.1240 per kWh, up from just P.0406 in 2015. By the time the rate increase is introduced next month, however, the FiT rate would have increased by over 300% in under three years.
Despite the DoE exceeding the initial allocations for RE developers, and not to mention the impact of FiT rates on the monthly power bill of consumers, developers, particularly the solar developers that missed out on previous rounds, are clamoring for a third round of FiT.
Thankfully, upon taking the helm of the DoE last year, Sec. Alfonso Cusi quickly thumbed down the possibility of third round, saying that it would only add burden to consumers already paying high electricity rates.
Currently, the Philippines already has among the most expensive electricity prices, ranking third in the region, fourth in Asia Pacific and 16th worldwide. Aside from the high cost of electricity, the thinning reserves and lack of competition in the generation side of the industry remain challenges for the sector.
There is a clear need to create competition in the industry and bolster generation to meet the growing demands of our economy, but surely there must be a way to attract more investments into the power generation sector without having to dole out fiscal incentives that, in the long run, are lopsided against the consumer.
Why not revisit discussions in DoE, the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives to fast track the permitting and licensing of power projects by declaring them projects of national significance. Currently, the process of securing permits and licenses from the various national agencies and local government units remains drawn out, an issue for power developers for the longest time. All this red tape not only prolong the building of much needed power plants, the cumbersome process also wards off prospective investors as well.
Under the proposal of Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, the chairman of the committee on Energy, power projects of national significance will be given priority by compelling permit-giving government agencies to work within a specific timeframe. Furthermore, a one-stop shop for energy-related projects to cut redundancy in filing documentary requirements could also be created. A policy such as this could also become the subject of an Executive Order from Malacañang; after all, fighting red tape is also a priority of the current administration. But whether done through EO or legislation, the policy should avoid passing the burden on to consumers by creating new incentives.
This policy may not immediately translate into the development of RE as envisioned in Republic Act 9513, but with RE technology continuing to become more and more affordable, it could soon displace traditional sources as baseload generators. When this happens, consumers should be able to benefit from these developments in technology. With FiT rates this won’t happen since they will continue to pay the fixed tariff dictated by the FiT mechanism while RE developers get to hoard its benefits.
This early, the ERC, as the industry regulator, should champion the rights of consumers, review the implementation of FiT, and disallow any proposed FiT rate increase. This stand against FiT and the burden it causes on consumers can further be supported by the DoE by formally rejecting a third FiT round and by supporting Congress in crafting a policy that can spur investment on the generation side.