Blame not the power distributors

By Herbert Vego

IT is not unusual for electricity consumers to curse their distribution utility (DU) each time the power bill reveals a higher amount per kilowatt-hour.

In Iloilo City, the DU is MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power). The province is presently served by three independent branches of the Iloilo Electric Cooperative (ILECO).

To be fair, although the DUs distribute the bills, most of that amount is not theirs to keep. The bigger slices of the pie are forwarded to the fuel suppliers, the power generators and the transmission grid, among others.

A case in point is MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power), the sole DU in Iloilo City, which conveys electricity from contracted generating units like the coal-fired Sem-Calaca Power Plant in Calaca, Batangas which runs on imported and local coal. The National Grid and Power Corporation (NGCP), on the other hand, owns the intricate network of power lines that connect the power plants to the DUs.

“MORE Power gets no more than 15 percent of the billed amount,” said MORE Power’s Vice President for Corporate Planning Niel V. Parcon when interviewed by this writer.

And yet it’s the DUs scouting for ways and means to minimize the power consumers’ financial burden.  One recalls that moment in time when MORE Power President Roel Z. Castro inked the most favorable contracts with PSALM geothermal power plant.

Thus, for 14 straight months, the city households enjoyed the lowest power rates in the whole Philippines. It also enabled MORE Power to expand its number of customers from 63,000 to almost 90,000 in two years and a half.

However, due to the volatility of fuel prices, long-term contracts with generating utilities could only be made available at higher cost.

The world market price of coal has zoomed from US $60 to $400 per metric ton. The cited reason is the protracted war between coal-rich Russia and Ukraine.

The irony of it all is that while Semirara Mining and Power Corp. (SMPC) runs a coal mine in Semirara (an island barangay in Caluya, Antique), its management has played deaf and dumb to public clamor for reduced prices sold to the local power plants.

SMPC has so far ignored the resolution of the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Iloilo City echoing the same plea. Kagawad Romel Duron, who authored the resolution, thinks that SMPC could now cross beyond profit motive because its consolidated P36 billion net income in the first three quarters of 2022 had more than doubled from P16.2 billion in the same period in 2021.

The president of the Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco), Jojit Yap, feels that “big business groups and fuel suppliers seem to be exploiting the Russia-Ukraine war to make more profits at the expense of the ordinary consumers.”

As reported by Daily Guardian reporter Dolly Yasa, Yap had asked all stakeholders and local government units to support the calls of electric cooperatives for a government inquiry on the power generators and fuel suppliers.

After all, the growth of the Philippine economy juxtaposes energization with modernization.  A case in point is the ongoing collaboration between the local government of Iloilo City and the power and communication utilities.

It’s all about the city ordinance mandating all electric, cable, and telephones lines around major plazas to be buried underground starting in March 2023. The project is expected to entail a budget of P150.7 million.

This means that tangled utility wires or cables in Iloilo City will no longer spoil the scenery at the public plazas, heritage sites and historic edifices.

According to Engr. Bernard “Bailey” Del Castillo, MORE Power’s Senior Assistant Vice President for Network Operations, “We will be employing the new ground-penetrating radar technology that will not require digging an open excavation trench.  There will only be two underground openings — an entry pit and an exit. This way, we will not disturb vehicular traffic on the ground.”

Eh di wow!