The majority of Filipinos are dissatisfied with current power prices according to a survey by Pulse Asia.
Last August, the research firm released its report revealing that around 60 percent of Filipinos are dissatisfied with the power rates. “With the exception of Mindanao, at least half of adults in the main geographic areas are dissatisfied with the price of their electricity,” Pulse Asia said.
The survey also showed that a significant majority of Filipinos or 82 percent are in favor of “having a new option for electric service provider or electric utility.” In the National Capital Region (NCR), 88 percent of adult Filipinos expressed openness to having new electric service providers. Plus, 89 percent of Filipinos also favor renewable energy.
The survey results are a testament to the growing dissatisfaction of Filipinos on our high power rates. They are also aware that there is a need for more competition in our energy sector even in the distribution segment to cut the cost of electricity. Competition, after all, will always drive down market prices. And it is not surprising that the vast majority of the survey participant for NCR is open for more distributors as the monopoly of a company in any business will never be beneficial for consumers.
Unfortunately, the passage of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) did little to invite competition in the markets in the distribution side as we focused more on having more players in the generation business.
But there are steps our regulators can take to generate more players in the distribution of power. For one, we can break away from the current practice of disallowing a new distribution entity to enter the market where one DU is in place. Such practice fails to promote competition and instead allows for a monopoly to flourish.
Aside from allowing other power players to enter an already franchised service area, our regulators should also consider lifting the cap for the Retail Competition and Open Access (RCOA).
Currently, the rule says that only those with a monthly peak demand of 750 kilowatts or higher can be considered contestable customers and can choose their preferred service providers. In my opinion, this rule should be revised as anyone regardless of their power consumption should be given the option to decide where to source their power.
We have to keep in mind that contestable customers get to save on their energy bills than the captive customers or those who are required to source from their distribution utilities or electric cooperatives. In a column in BusinessWorld, President of Minimal Government Thinkers, Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. President of Minimal Government Thinkers notes that contestable customers on average only pay Php 6.91 per kilowatt hour (kWh) considerably lower than the captive customers who pay roughly Php 7.78 kWh.
Our government then should work on giving choices to the majority of the Filipinos by allowing them to choose their power generator or distributor rather than force them to stay with their current ones. Naturally, aside from lifting the restriction on RCOA, there is also a need to make the infrastructure and resources available to pave the way for this scenario where customers have the freedom to choose their energy type, generator, and even distributor.
We have to make these changes if we do not want to be left behind. Let us keep in mind that the technological advancements will soon render the traditional distribution system obsolete as asserted by many experts. For example, David Cane, former CEO of NRG Energy believes that the existing utility system will become irrelevant in the near future since many advanced countries are moving towards decentralized homegrown energy where home automation be of great importance. He argues that “When we think of who our competitors or partners will be, it will be the Googles, Comcasts, AT&Ts who are already inside the meter.”
Indeed, we need to create an environment that can accommodate these technologies, so we can benefit from having more options as well as cheaper power prices to consumers.
Having choices is one of the best ways to promote competition and hence lower down the power costs in the country. However, major changes are needed that require a lot of willpower. It is time for our regulators to put the interest of the Filipino consumers above anything else.