More Competition in the New Year and the Coming Years

The previous year ended with news that the Meralco-Marubeni Consortium won the bidding for power distribution of the New Clark City, the first city in the Philippines to have a smart-power grid and underground cables. This means that residents and business of the smart city will enjoy low utility rates.

The Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), owner of the New Clark City is set to ink the agreement this month with the Meralco-Marubeni Consortium, consisting of Meralco, Marubeni Corp., Kansai Electric Power Co. Inc., and Chubu Electric Power Co. Inc., Their proposed tariff bid was P0.6188 per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

The Meralco and Marubeni consortium was able to beat the Aboitiz-Kepco Consortium of the Olongapo Energy Corp. and Kepco Philippines Holdings Inc, which proposed a P0.9888 per kWh tariff.

It is worthy to note that both bids were lower than the tariff ceiling Php 1.25 kWh set by the BCDA for power distribution. The proposals are also cheaper than the Php1.24 kWh of Mactan electric, the lowest distribution supply metering tariff that’s under the traditional distribution system.

This bidding is proof that competition, as any economist worth his or her salt would know, would always benefit consumers. And competition in the distribution of power is what the Filipinos need to enjoy cheaper power rates. Although the game I talk about is not exactly in this context, but this recent bidding gives flavor to what I mean.

And since it is the start of the year, let me share my reflections on what can be done to achieve lower electricity bills for all of us.

We can start by allowing more franchise holders in a single area rather than stick with the current rules of only granting a franchise to one. The logic is simple. Firms vying for the same customer base will find ways to beat their competitors either concerning better service or price.

Unfortunately, allowing just one franchise holder per area fails to push the franchise holder to improve its services and offer competitive pricing. This is what monopoly does– leave the firm to dictate prices and be complacent in its service delivery. If several businesses are competing for the same customer base, then surely we can expect players to always be on their toes to find ways to beat other firms or electric cooperatives.

Our lawmakers can also review the rules for the Retail Competition and Open Access (RCOA), too. Present rules, after all, require that only those with 750 kWh or higher monthly peak demand or contestable customers can choose their power providers. This means those with lesser than 750 kWh or captive customers are not given that option.

But why should we single out those with higher consumption and not give the option to all power consumers to choose their sources and distributors? If indeed the consumers’ welfare is the top priority, then we should also allow captive customers this alternative. We need to have some solutions to what people expect to be “stranded assets.” This, surely, can be addressed. We just need creativity here.

These are just some of the changes we need if we want Filipinos to benefit from the essence of EPIRA, the law crafted to foster more competition in the energy sector. We need to make major changes if indeed the Filipino consumers’ welfare is of the utmost importance.

The New Year brings hope to all of us. And, it is my wish for the New Year that our regulators would see the critical role that competition plays in the energy sector and have the political will to make the changes needed.