ERC proposes conversion of fines into customer refunds

Amid its ongoing probe into the four-day blackout that crippled Western Visayas, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) pushes for an amendment of the Republic Act No. 9136, also known as the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) of 2001, that will redirect penalties it will collect into refunds to Filipino consumers inconvenienced by power outages.

ERC Chairperson and CEO Monalisa C. Dimalanta raised this proposal during the second congressional inquiry into the region-wide power outage at the House of Representatives on Thursday, 11 January 2024.

Under the EPIRA, the ERC is authorized to impose penalties ranging from P50,000 to a maximum of P50 million for violations by power industry players. These penalties, according to Chairperson Dimalanta, are being remitted to the National Treasury.

“In fact, one of the recommendations that we made for the EPIRA amendment is to allow ERC the authority to order the application of penalties for return, either in the form of refund or discounts, to the consumers that suffer the inconvenience or the violation that resulted in the interruption of service,” Chairperson Dimalanta said.

“Right now, we don’t have the authority. But if there is an amendment in the law, then we can have that authority to make the application,” she added.

Following reports of the massive power shortfall, the ERC promptly instituted a proactive approach by mandating hourly updates from the grid operator instead of the previous four-hour intervals. Concurrently, the ERC immediately launched its own investigation into the incident which led to the region’s economic losses in billions of pesos.

In addition, the ERC is completing the study on the reconstitution of the composition of the Grid Management Committee (GMC) while assessing the most efficient legal framework for this reconstitution.

The GMC is primarily in charge of monitoring the implementation of the Grid Code, as well as reviewing and recommending standards, procedures, and requirements for the connection, operation, maintenance, and development of the country’s power grid.

Earlier in the hearing of the Senate’s Energy Committee on Wednesday, 10 January 2024, Chairperson Dimalanta vowed to relentlessly pursue the exacting of full measure of accountability from agencies responsible for the blackout.

In the same inquiry at the Senate, the Department of Energy (DOE) also conveyed that it will also support an amendment to the EPIRA that will seek criminal liability for power company officials deemed responsible for failing to prevent such blackouts.