Councilor warns higher power rates if Agus and Pulangui plants are privatized

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 September) — A city councilor warned that the impending privatization of Agus and Pulangi hydropower plants will only drive up the electricity cost in Mindanao, which is still the cheapest in the country.

Councilor Pilar Braga, chair of the Energy, Transportation and Communication Committee of the City Council called on her colleagues to file a resolution asking Congress to amend the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) of 2001 which, she said, “failed to live up to people’s expectations in the last nine years.”

“The people in this country were made to expect that with the passage of Republic Act 9136 or the Epira, there will be healthy competition among energy players, there will be increased efficiencies and power outages will be a thing of the past, there will be lower power rates because the competition will drive power rates down. But nine years have passed and all the promises of Epira and power privatization remain empty ones,” she said.

“What we have, instead, is the emergence of powerful monopolies and cartels, an increasing electricity tariffs which further bleed our workers and consumers.”

She asked the city council on Tuesday to sponsor a resolution urging Congress to find ways to amend the Epira, particularly section 47, which called for the privatization of the Agus and Pulangi hydropower complex.

The Epira law, which privatized the power generation assets of the National Power Corporation, has scheduled the privatization of the Agus and Pulangi hydropower complex next year.

“I am calling on the government, particularly the PSALM (Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management), not to proceed with the sale of the Agus Pulangi water plants. I urge my colleagues to pass a resolution asking Congress to look into how to amend the Epira,” said Braga, a member of the Alliance Power Consumers of Mindanao (APCM) which strongly opposes the privatization of the National Power Corporation’s assets.

“What is the Agus-Pulangi hydropower complex and why is it important to Mindanao?” Braga asked, “The Agus and Pulangi power plants are the sources of cheaper electricity. Power rates in Mindanao are lower compared to Luzon and Visayas because of Agus and Pulangi hydropower plants which use the natural water resources of Lake Lanao and Pulangi River in Bukidnon.”

Generation charges in Mindanao only reach P2.81 per kilowatthour, against Luzon’s P4.36 per kilowatthour and Visayas’ P3.72 per kilowatthour.

Councilor warns vs privatization of Agus and Pulangui hydropower plantsShe said that nine years of Epira did not drive down electricity rates either.  Retail cost of electricity for Meralco’s residential customers reach as much as P13.46 kilowatthour while that of Cebu’s Visayan Electric Corporation is pegged at P7.92 per kilowatt hour.

“If the Pulangi and Agus power plants will be privatized, Mindanao consumers will become like the consumers in Luzon and Visayas: helpless in the face of brownouts and rising power prices,” Braga said.

“Electricity, like water, is not a commodity but a right of every citizen. It must not be subjected to the profit motive of businesses,” she added. “The increasing power tariffs in Mindanao would be a logical end results of privatization. It could exacerbate poverty and further widen the gap between the rich and the poor.”

Earlier, Mindanao exporters led by Vicente Lao, chair of the Mindanao Business Council, echoed the same call.

Lao said in an exporters’ forum that Napocor seemed to have neglected the upkeep of the two hydropower plants to lower its inefficiency and justify the sale to the private sector. (Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews)