Groups seek power relief, recovery plan in SONA

July 27, 2020

CLEAN energy advocates led by the Power for People Coalition (P4P) and the Withdraw from Coal (WFC) network on Monday called for the inclusion of the power sector in the plans for national survival from the COVID-19 crisis in this year's State of the Nation Address (SONA), including relief and reform programs and a reaffirmation of marching orders issued by President Rodrigo Duterte in the 2019 SONA.

In his previous SONA, the chief executive expressed recognition of the need to fast-track the development of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on coal, a task he entrusted to the Department of Energy (DOE).

"We welcomed the President’s pledge in 2019 in the hope that it would finally spark change in a power sector that, for so long, has been highly polluting and systematically anti-consumer. It indeed was followed by advances in the implementation of the remaining mechanisms of the Renewable Energy Law, over a decade after it was enacted. But the twenty-one coal projects are still in the national pipeline,” said Gerry Arances, Convenor of P4P.

Arances said the advance of coal would have been worse had it not been for the determined resistance of consumers and host communities.

"Advocates remained along as before the pledge was made. With this, the administration made way for the heightened suffering of Filipinos from exorbitant bills, power outages, and continuedpollution during the pandemic," he said.

According to the group, the COVID-19 crisis revealed deep-seated problems in a power sector characterized by privatization, competition, and deregulation as enabled by the Electric Power Industry

Reform Act, for which government interventions are already long overdue.

"This old normal, which harms the integrity of Creation with the proliferation of coal and other fossil fuels and leaves our marginalized sectors at the mercy of private corporations, cannot continue.

The advocates called on the government to provide immediate relief packages for the people and work towards the betterment of the power sector.

“The millions of suffering electricity consumers would surely benefit from payment exemptions, suspension of taxes, and immediate return of refunds owed by companies like Meralco.Existing power contracts detrimental to consumers, especially those of coal that pass on hidden costs to end-users while locking them to decades of unreliable electricity, also need to be stopped. With the decline of electricity demand, an audit of all power supply agreements, starting with Meralco's, must also be done to protect consumers from price hikes due to stranded costs,” said Ian Rivera, National Coordinator of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ).

The group said that advancing renewable energy to replace the old normal, as urged by the President himself last year, is crucial to national recovery.

Recovery plans must seek to rebuild the economy and strengthen its resilience to future crises. At the same time, they need to address the people's pressing dilemmas of rising costs of living and widespread loss of jobs. Renewable energy, especially in the form of microgrids, and energy efficiency measures offer solutions to these. In urban centers, it could provide cheap electricity while creating more job opportunities than fossil fuel industries can ever offer. Because it can be designed to adapt to any terrain, microgrids can also power far-flung communities and address the decades-old problem of 100% electrification," explained Atty. Gia Ibay, Climate Change and Energy Programme Head of WWF Philippines.