Congress adjourns, no additional powers for Aquino

Rappler.com
Congress adjourns, no additional powers for Aquino
Instead of an outright grant of additional powers to President Aquino, both houses of Congress opt to file resolutions seeking inquiries on the country's power supply situation

MANILA, Philippines – Congress adjourned this week without granting President Bengino Aquino III additional powers that the energy department said was urgently needed to address the looming power shortage in 2015.

This means the earliest that Aquino may get additional powers, if at all, will be after Congress resumes session on October 20. Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla had wanted Aquino to get additional powers by September as it takes months to purchase or lease power generators.

Instead of an outright grant of additional powers to the President, as he had requested, Congress leaders in both houses opted to file resolutions directing their respective committees on energy to conduct an inquiry on the country’s power supply situation.

The congressional inquries will determine what specific and limited powers the President needs or, better yet, if there are solutions that would not require giving Aquino additional powers at all. 

The Senate committee on energy chaired by Senator Sergio Osmeña III had its first hearing on Thursday, September 25, where Petilla warned of a 7-week rotating brownout that could last one to 3 hours in the summer 2015 if Congress would not give the President the necessary powers soonest. 

Osmeña had said he will hold technical working group meetings during the congressional break. Osmeña and Senate President Franklin Drilon had filed the resolutions seeking on inquiry on the grant of additional powers to the President.

In the House, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr and Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II filed on Friday, September 26 – the last day of session before the 3-week congressional break – resolutions directing the House committee on energy to look into the Department of Energy’s power supply projections.

On September 12,  Aquino asked Congress to grant him powers to contract additional power generating capacity to address the expected shortage in 2015. The letter also talked about spending P6 billion ($134.93 million)* to contract 300 megawatts (MW) of additional capacity.

In an emergency situation, Section 71 of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) gives the President powers to establish additional generating capacity. It reads: “Upon the determination by the President of the Philippines of an imminent shortage of the supply of electricity, Congress may authorize, through a joint resolution, the establishment of additional generating capacity under such terms and conditions as it may approve.”

The lawmakers are not inclined to give the President full powers under the Epira law, and are looking at specific ways to generate additional capacity. 

Among the options is for government to purchase or lease generating power facilities from the power producers but it could take 5 to 6 months for the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities and Management Corporation (PSALM) to finalize the contracts.

Another option is for government to rely on the Interruptible Load Program (ILP) where industries and businesses will run their standby generator sets instead of getting power from the grid. Malls and business groups have, to date, committed over 410 MW of power supply under the ILP which is voluntary.

On its own, the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) is looking at contracting as much as 400 megawatts (MW) of additional power capacity in 2015 to address the anticipated supply deficiency in Luzon during the summer months. 

The DOE had warned of a power supply shortfall of up to 300 MW in the summer months of 2015 in Luzon. An additional 400 MW to 500 MW are needed as buffer supply. – with reports from Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com

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