MORE Power expansion now likely

By Herbert Vego

THE odds are in favor of MORE Electric and Power Corporation (MORE Power) expanding its services to 15 towns and a component city via an amendment of Republic Act No 11212 — the law providing the franchise for MORE as a distribution utility in Iloilo City.

Having seen the live video coverage of the “zoom hearing” conducted by the Senate public services committee on the “expansion bill” (HB No. 10306) last Thursday, I could not help but predict it would pass into law sooner or later.

Any perceptive observer could have read what was going on in the mind of Sen. Grace Poe, the committee chair, when she vowed to sponsor the measure on the Senate floor after hearing the arguments presented by opposing sides.

She pointed out that under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), “competition is really encouraged and as mentioned in the Constitution, no franchise should be exclusive in character. So, there is also a question on that which we need to validate. I would like to hear the opinion of all of our colleagues in the Senate.”

The committee hearing, incidentally, saw the participation of key players from MORE Power, Iloilo Electric Cooperative (Ileco), the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association Inc. (Philreca), Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and Department of Energy (DOE), among others.

I agree with MORE Power’s President Roel Z. Castro, who made it clear that the “takeover” was not a company-generated plan. It had begun as an insistent clamor from the people of Pavia, the town adjoining Iloilo City.

Pavia is a fast-growing business hub that naturally counts on reliable electricity for economic sustainability. The cheaper the power, the more attractive it becomes to manufacturers and traders.

Castro assured the committee that MORE Power is prepared to expand the number of its workforce as needed, if only to cope with bigger coverage. In fact, the private corporation had absorbed more than 60 technical men from its predecessor, Panay Electric Co. (PECO).

One of Pavia’s councilors, Dan Fajardo, showed up to say that a number of Pavianhons had indeed sought for a Sangguniang Bayan resolution on their clamor for economic reasons. Simply put, the residents were complaining against the “almost double” rates imposed by the three branches of Ileco when compared to MORE Power.

MORE Power had availed itself of “competitive selection process” (CSP) that enabled it to win cheaper power-supply price agreements with the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (PSALM) geothermal plant.

To cut the long story short, the “public clamor” for change widened until it ripened into a bill with Congressmen Mike Gorriceta (2nd District, Iloilo), Braeden John Biron (4th Dist.) and Julienne Baronda (Iloilo City) as principal sponsors.

As stated in the House-approved bill, MORE Power’s coverage would extend into the towns of Alimodian, Leganes, New Lucena, Pavia, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, and Zarraga (2nd district), and to Anilao, Banate, Barotac Nuevo, Dingle, Dueñas, Dumangas, San Enrique and Passi City (4th district).

No doubt, Ileco’s customers would not have gone ballistic had the cooperatives lowered their rates to MORE’s level.

However, while the higher rates imposed by the three Ilecos – averaging between P11 and P12 per kilowatt-hour against MORE Power’s P6.38 – appear to be the bone of contention, what could be more worrisome than poor service?

Unlike the co-ops which lack manpower and equipment to attend to unscheduled power outages on 24-hour availability, MORE Power has more of them.  That is why in the wake of typhoon Odette, three teams of its linemen offered their services to clear obstructions and rehabilitated the fallen poles and power lines across the sea in Kabankalan City.

Of course, General managers Mike Paguntalan (ILECO I) and Jose Redmond Roquios (ILECO II) had valid reasons for opposing the impending loss of territories. For example, a reduction in the number of their customers would result in higher rates.

So, better luck next time. They reasoned that their inability to level down rates at the moment was still impractical because they had to honor the higher generation charges imposed by the power suppliers with which they had inked contracts. Why not wait till March 25, 2022 when these contracts would have expired?

Sen. Poe could only quip, “This is almost like a natural selection process, wherein those that are more adapted will survive.”