Reducing system loss, Part 2

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last Wednesday.


This is a follow up to a previous piece entitled, “Rule of law in Distribution system loss cap (June 7).” This sequel is prompted by three recent developments: (a) “NEA seeks expanded authority over electricity distributors (BusinessWorld, June 20),” (b) “DoE official backs NEA control over power distributors (BusinessWorld, June 21),” and (c) public hearing early this month by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to reduce the system loss cap of all distribution utilities (DUs).

The ERC plans to allow higher cap (maximum rate of system loss) for electric cooperatives (ECs) compared to private DUs.

In particular, the ERC plan is to impose a technical loss cap of 3.25% to 7.0% for three clusters of ECs but only 2.75% cap for private DUs and a non-technical loss cap of 4.5% of energy input for all ECs but only 1.25% cap for private DUs.

The message is that the proposed new ERC regulation is to favor ECs, all under the supervision of the National Electrification Administration (NEA), which has the effect of allowing them to incur higher wastes that can be passed on to electricity consumers while forcing private DUs to spend more on higher capex so that their system losses are reduced to the barest minimum.

The NEA and the various provincial ECs are not exactly doing well in consistently reducing the distribution system loss and raising the overall electrification rate in the country.

As of 2013, only 87.5% of all households in the country have electricity, and not all of them have 24/7 electricity, many still suffer from frequent “Earth Hours” — that is to say power outages — daily. (See table.)


The Philippines’ archipelagic geography is a contributor of course for the rather low electrification rate as many households in far away islands are off-grid and rely on generation sets administered by Napocor-SPUG and small private electricity sellers. More off-grid areas are now using solar.

Still, the absence of 24/7 electricity in many areas covered by ECs as administered by NEA is a problem. When there are frequent brownouts, people use two things: candles and generation sets. Candles are among the major causes of fires in houses and communities while gensets are noisy and are running on more expensive fuel, diesel oil.

The Philippines’ low electricity generation compared to its neighbors in the region (column 4 of the table) is a result of combination of many factors, like the huge bureaucracies face by generation companies putting up new power plants, and rigidities in the electricity distribution system.

Protecting the electricity consumers via lower distribution charge, lower system loss charge, and lower incidence of brownouts can be done via the following measures.

One, both the ERC and the NEA should identify which are the most inefficient, lowest-rating ECs or DUs, push them to be corporatized (not exactly “privatized” because ECs are already private entities). These agencies, in turn, should serve notice to these ECs that if they fail to make their operations more efficient, then they will be corporatized. With these measures, these ECs will be forced to improve their systems loss, collection efficiency, employee-customer ratio, etc.

Two, the government should remove differences in caps of systems losses between DUs and ECs. The ERC has to determine the increase in rates so that DUs can comply with their systems loss cap since they need to put up more expensive equipment to decrease technical systems loss. Having a different system loss cap for ECs and DUs means the ERC will not exactly be protecting the consumers but more of protecting ECs so that their inefficient if not outright wasteful operations are tolerated and rewarded with higher profit.

Three, NEA should not aspire to supervise all DUs including private corporations. It is not exactly good at instilling financial discipline on all ECs as a number of them are inefficient and therefore lose money while charging high costs to their consumers (See “NEA offers P1.7-B loan window for distressed power cooperatives,” BusinessWorld, April 12). NEA in fact should step back and give more supervisory functions to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) via ECs that were corporatized. After all, the SEC has more transparent, more universal corporate rules than NEA.

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is a Fellow of SEANET and President of Minimal Government Thinkers. Both are members of Economic Freedom Network (EFN) Asia.



On reducing distribution system loss

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last Wednesday.


When matter changes form, there are certain “system loss” that occur. Like a one-kilo dressed chicken becomes less than one-kilo once it is cooked into adobo or tinola. Or a one-kilo green mango or banana becomes lighter than a kilo when it transforms into ripe, yellow mango or banana after a few days.

When electricity is transported or transmitted from a power generation company (genco) some 100+ kilometers away to a private distribution utility (DU) or electric cooperative (EC), there is a transmission system loss. Thus, a 1,000-MW output from a genco may become only 980 MW when it reaches the DU or EC.

Then when electricity is distributed from a DU or EC to houses and offices, there is also a distribution system loss. This loss is divided into (a) Technical loss, inherent in the physical delivery of electric energy including conductor loss, transformer core loss, and technical error in meters, and (b) Nontechnical Loss, energy lost due to pilferage, meter reading errors, meter tampering, others not related to the physical characteristics and functions of the electric system.

o4a_060717The Philippines has a relatively high degree of transmission loss + distribution loss while Singapore, South Korea and Japan have low systems losses, based on World Bank data (see Table 1).

There are several attempts to limit or cap the distribution system loss that is passed on to the consumers. One from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) draft “Rules for Setting the Distribution System Loss Cap and Establishing Performance Incentive Scheme for Distribution Efficiency,” and two from the Senate. Here is a summary of their provisions.



o4b_060717These three measures are problematic and Sen. Pacquiao’s bill is the worst because of its populist posturing, disallowing private DUs to charge any system loss while pampering the ECs to have their system loss. Check again Table 1 above, it shows that none of the advanced countries like Singapore and Japan have zero system loss.

Sen. Gatchalian’s bill is not as bad as Sen. Pacquiao’s but like the ERC draft Rules,it suffers from some populism too, pampering the ECs with higher loss cap compared to private DUs.

Giving differentiated loss cap is favoring the ECs while penalizing private DUs and this is wrong. If the real purpose of the proposed ERC regulation and Sen. Gatchalian’s bill is to protect the consumers from high system loss charge in their monthly electricity bill, then they should slap a uniform low cap for all players, whether private DUs or ECs.

The rule of law is explicit in reminding people that the law applies equally to unequal players and people. Thus, a law against traffic counterflow should apply to all vehicles, from buses to cars, jeepneys, armored vans, tricycles and motorcycles. It should apply also to both private and public/government vehicles.

20170607e9125A law with penalty against non-rehabilitation of mined-out area should apply to all mining entities, whether big, medium, small and artisanal mining.

And a law or regulation on system loss cap should apply to all players, from big corporate DUs to medium or small electric cooperatives.

By slapping differentiated system loss cap, new government regulations will not be exactly protecting the consumers but more of protecting certain ECs so that their inefficient if not outright wasteful distribution system is rewarded with higher profit at the expenses of the consumers.

Ultimately, all ECs should be corporatized. They should be registered with and monitored by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and not by the National Electrification Administration because SEC has more transparent and realistic rules than NEA. But that will be another topic in the future.

For now, the rule of law, of not making exemptions and differentiation in the imposition of system loss cap, should prevail. And the loss cap that government has in mind should be realistic that DUs and ECs should not be burdened with additional high capital expenditures (CAPEX) and operating expenditures (OPEX) which ultimately will be passed to the consumers in the form of higher distribution charge.

More growth needs more Megawatts

Reposting an article in Manila Standard last Monday by a friend, Orly Oxales of Stratbase-ADRi.


More growth needs more megawatts
posted May 22, 2017 at 12:01 am by  Orlando Oxales

For many Filipinos, there is something visceral about electricity. We know that it is not free, that modern life has grown dependent on it, and that any fluctuations related to its price will affect the way we budget our routine household expenses.

This is why news of the Energy Regulatory Commission’s version of “dagdag-bawas” will hit a nerve in every consumer. News of a nearly P7-billion refund of over-recoveries by Meralco was quickly negated by the announcement of a consequent rate hike, thanks to an approved increase in Feed-in-Tariff rates.

Needless to say, the two issues have generated their own share of intrigues and controversies. The refund stems from over-recoveries incurred between 2014 and 2016. Meralco officials explained that “timing issues” gave rise to such over-recoveries, as the rate used to compute for the generation charge in a current billing month is based on the generation cost incurred in the previous one. This thus creates a lag.

Meanwhile, the increase in FIT rates, ostensibly to help boost the renewable energy sector, represents what some say are “very fast adjustments” from 4.06 centavos/kWh in 2015 to 12.40 in 2016 and eventually 26 centavos in mid-2017. Critics of the initiative have hit what they describe as excessive intervention from the government, not only in price control but also in the grid prioritization of otherwise intermittent and unstable energy sources.

For many, what this does, effectively, is sacrifice consumer interest and cheaper and stable electricity for corporate interest and “saving the planet,” via guaranteed pricing, a slew of fiscal incentives, and other privileges. Because of this skewed prioritization, some even describe it as anti-consumer.

There are also reports of so-called “Meralco midnight deals” between the ERC and Meralco-affiliated generation companies that allegedly allowed some 3,551 megawatts of negotiated power supply agreements with periods of 20 years to evade a mandated competitive bidding policy. Some lawmakers have hit the delayed implementation of this rule and hinted at a collusion, something that both parties have vehemently denied.

For its part, the ERC maintained that the extension was not meant to favor any particular utility or generation company. Some industry observers say the move is to “proactively” assure sustainable power supply; distribution utilities and electronic cooperatives from across the country have planned for such by entering into supply contracts with suppliers early on in order to not only  decrease exposure from uncertainties of the wholesale electricity spot market but, more importantly, to guarantee the supply requirements of their customers.

After all, some say, an initiative that aims to replace bilateral agreements with competitive bidding will not succeed due to a serious lack of power producers that can adequately supply the country’s growing demand for power. In short, the initiative doesn’t address the problem of supply, which the Duterte administration’s build-build- build mantra will also need to confront. That necessary surge will only be possible in a healthy market environment with enough energy players.

According to some forecasts, the Philippine economy has the capacity for robust long-term economic growth of about 4.5 to 5 percent per year over the 2016 to 2030 time horizon. But this level, pace, and consistency of growth will require an additional 7,000 megawatts of power generation capacity built over the next five years.

For this to materialize, there needs to be a concrete plan to improve from mere sufficiency to a surplus of energy supply. The Department of Energy’s power development plan aims to make this a reality. Aside from the invitation of foreign investors, local players are also bullishly gearing up for this scenario. This should appease industry, at least for now.

For consumers, the DOE Task Force to Lower the Cost of Electricity in its final report has already identified the main elements contributing to the cost of power along the chain, from generation, transmission, to distribution. Their recommendations include the rationalization of taxes and the removal of bureaucratic barriers to encourage more investments in power plants.

Thus, for both industry and consumers, the issue of supply seems to be the epicenter of our persistent power woes and should guide the rethinking of our energy policies.

Ever increasing burden of FiT

I am reposting this article today in BusinessWorld by a friend, Paco Pangalangan of Stratbase-ADRi.

Just the other day, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) announced the approval yet again of an increase in Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) rates to be collected from consumers.

Starting next month, the National Transmission Corp. (TransCo), which manages the FiT fund, will begin collecting an additional P0.0590 per kilowatt-hour in FiT rates, bringing the rate up to P0.1830 per kWh. The announced rate increase was conveniently tucked behind the news that Meralco customers would be seeing a reduction of 75 centavos per kWh as part of the distribution utility’s nearly P7-billion refund for over-recoveries. While this may cushion the blow of the increase in collections, the refund will last but three months, while the FiT rates will pretty much stay.

FiT, if you recall, was the centerpiece of the Renewable Energy (RE) Act when it was passed in 2008 (Republic Act 9513). The law, which aimed to accelerate RE development in the country, sought to incentivize RE developers by providing them with a guaranteed power rate for the electricity they produced, a long-term contract and priority connection to the grid. To fund the incentive, beginning in 2012 and until today, every electricity consumer pays a uniform FiT rate which is factored into the computation of your monthly power bill.

The allure of the guaranteed power rate over several years had developers scrambling to qualify for FiT when the first round of certifications were handed out. After two rounds, the Department of Energy (DoE) had already exceeded the target allocations for both solar and wind, and as an effect of the increased number of RE providers that were owed incentives, consumers have seen what some say are “very fast adjustments” in the FiT rates charged to them. Currently, consumers pay P0.1240 per kWh, up from just P.0406 in 2015. By the time the rate increase is introduced next month, however, the FiT rate would have increased by over 300% in under three years.

Despite the DoE exceeding the initial allocations for RE developers, and not to mention the impact of FiT rates on the monthly power bill of consumers, developers, particularly the solar developers that missed out on previous rounds, are clamoring for a third round of FiT.

Thankfully, upon taking the helm of the DoE last year, Sec. Alfonso Cusi quickly thumbed down the possibility of third round, saying that it would only add burden to consumers already paying high electricity rates.

Currently, the Philippines already has among the most expensive electricity prices, ranking third in the region, fourth in Asia Pacific and 16th worldwide. Aside from the high cost of electricity, the thinning reserves and lack of competition in the generation side of the industry remain challenges for the sector.

There is a clear need to create competition in the industry and bolster generation to meet the growing demands of our economy, but surely there must be a way to attract more investments into the power generation sector without having to dole out fiscal incentives that, in the long run, are lopsided against the consumer.

Why not revisit discussions in DoE, the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives to fast track the permitting and licensing of power projects by declaring them projects of national significance. Currently, the process of securing permits and licenses from the various national agencies and local government units remains drawn out, an issue for power developers for the longest time. All this red tape not only prolong the building of much needed power plants, the cumbersome process also wards off prospective investors as well.

Under the proposal of Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, the chairman of the committee on Energy, power projects of national significance will be given priority by compelling permit-giving government agencies to work within a specific timeframe. Furthermore, a one-stop shop for energy-related projects to cut redundancy in filing documentary requirements could also be created. A policy such as this could also become the subject of an Executive Order from Malacañang; after all, fighting red tape is also a priority of the current administration. But whether done through EO or legislation, the policy should avoid passing the burden on to consumers by creating new incentives.

This policy may not immediately translate into the development of RE as envisioned in Republic Act 9513, but with RE technology continuing to become more and more affordable, it could soon displace traditional sources as baseload generators. When this happens, consumers should be able to benefit from these developments in technology. With FiT rates this won’t happen since they will continue to pay the fixed tariff dictated by the FiT mechanism while RE developers get to hoard its benefits.

This early, the ERC, as the industry regulator, should champion the rights of consumers, review the implementation of FiT, and disallow any proposed FiT rate increase. This stand against FiT and the burden it causes on consumers can further be supported by the DoE by formally rejecting a third FiT round and by supporting Congress in crafting a policy that can spur investment on the generation side.

Francisco Paco Pangalangan Secretary-General of CitizenWatch and an Energy Fellow with the Stratbase ADR Institute.

Why the FiT-All is a burden to consumers

* This is my article in BusinessWorld today.


Last May 15, Transmission Corp. of the Philippines (Transco) presented at the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) its petition of Feed-in-Tariff Allowance (FiT-All) for 2017 of 26 centavos/kWh. Very fast adjustments from 4.06 centavos/kWh in 2015, rose to 12.40 centavos in 2016, and soon 26 centavos starting mid-2017, all “to save the planet.”

The ERC still has to conduct public hearings in Visayas and Mindanao until early June and likely to make an order by late June, to be reflected in our monthly electricity bills starting July 2017.

The feed-in-tariff (FiT) provision in the Renewable Energy (RE) Act of 2008 (RA 9513) is very anomalous on the following grounds: (1) guaranteed price locked in for 20 years despite technology improving very fast these days, (2) the FiT rates are rising (see table below) yearly due to inflation and forex adjustments, (3) FiT rates of P8+ to P10+ per kWh for wind-solar are way high compared to current Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) average prices of P2-P3/kWh, (4) current capacity installations for wind and solar are higher than what was allotted, and (5) even consumers in Mindanao who are not part of WESM, not connected to the Luzon-Visayas grids, are paying for this.

The total forecast cost revenue of FiT-eligible plants would be (in P Billion): 10.22 in 2012-2015, 18.54 in 2016, 24.44 in 2017, and 26.14 2018. The bulk of this will go to wind and solar plants.

(a) Wind: 6.32 in 2012-2015, 8.00 in 2016, 9.20 in 2017, 9.20 in 2018.
(b) Solar: 1.50 in 2012-2015, 5.88 in 2016, 7.03 in 2017, 7.00 in 2018
(c) Biomass: 1.86 (2012-2015), 3.95 (2016), 6.69 (2017), 6.79 (2018)
Hydro is small, only 1.52 in 2017 and 3.15 in 2018.
(Source: ERC, Case No. 2016-192 RC, Docketed April 27, 2017, Table 4)

Below are the beneficiaries of expensive electricity via FiT scheme by virtue of their hugeness and higher FiT rates.

Many renewable firms were not able to snatch the limited FiT eligibility but they can still make money from expensive electricity via the renewable portfolio standards (RPS) provision of the RE law. The RPS coerces and forces distribution utilities (DUs) like electric cooperatives and Meralco to purchase a minimum percentage of their electricity supply from these expensive renewables, the price differential with cheaper conventional sources they will pass to the consumers. If DUs will not do this, they will be penalized and the cost of penalty they will still pass on to the consumers.

fitThe government should step back from price intervention and price control, grid prioritization of intermittent and unstable energy sources via legislation. Consumer interest of cheaper and stable electricity should be higher than corporate interest of guaranteed pricing for 20 years, lots of fiscal incentives and other privileges that are marks of cronyism. RA 9513 is anti-consumers, anti-industrialization and hence, it should be abolished soon.

On the retail competition and open access (RCOA) and EPIRA

* This is my article in BusinessWorld on April 19, 2017.

Electricity distribution, unlike generation, is defined as a “public utility” and hence, is granted as a monopoly right via congressional franchise. There are more than 120 distribution utilities (DUs) such as Meralco and electric cooperatives.

To dilute this monopoly, the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) which was passed in 2001 came with Section 31, Retail Competition and Open Access (RCOA) that “shall be implemented not later than three (3) years upon the effectivity of this Act,” and Section 29, Supply Sector, “The supply of electricity to the contestable market …” These are useful, anti-monopoly provisions, thanks to EPIRA.

The RCOA was finally implemented 12 years after, on June 26, 2013. The Department of Energy (DoE) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) issued orders to implement this beautiful provision.

But somewhere along the way, what should be a competitive scheme has become a “mandatory” order.

Some electricity consumers are unhappy because their choice to stay with their DUs — especially if these provide them good service and prices — has been done away with. This is why they went to the Supreme Court (SC) and asked for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the RCOA.

Below is a summary of these orders (one from DoE, four from ERC, and one from the SC).


The SC TRO has mixed signals. It is good because (a) it stopped the “mandatory migration” to RES by contestable customers (CCs) and thus, they have the option to stay with their DUs or not, and (b) local RES will be allowed again. But it can also be bad because (a) it stopped the voluntary participation of CCs for 750kW (lowered threshold), and (b) some ERC Resolutions suspending earlier prohibitions to Retail Electricity Suppliers (RES) are also removed.

Government prohibitions should be kept to the minimum as much as possible.

These prohibitions would give people — especially those with very low technical and financial capacities — the right to become RES which might invite abuse of CCs.

2017041893842Such prohibitions should not include more RES players, the right of CCs to stay with their DUs or not, and voluntary participation of customers at 750kW.

EPIRA has provided for more customer choices, strengthened consumer empowerment, and demonopolization of electricity generation and distribution. Let this spirit stay in the succeeding orders of the DoE and the ERC.


Brownouts, ancillary services and transmission charge

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last February 23, 2017.


Rotational and scheduled brownouts for several hours about once a month, then unscheduled short brownouts from time to time, have become a regular experience in the two provinces of Negros island. Despite the installation of many huge solar plants in recent years.

I am currently in Sagay hospital in Negros Occidental to visit my seriously sick father. Last night, there was brownout for about 10 minutes, the hospital’s generator set immediately takes over to supply electricity to their patients and staff.

The Facebook page of the Central Negros Electric Cooperative (CENECO) gives frequent advisory of power interruption that lasts for nine hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) until this month.

Stories and testimonies of frequent brownouts in many cities and municipalities of Negros Oriental in 2016 are also reported in

In June 2016, the Department of Energy (DoE) said that line congestion is building up in Negros Occidental due to many solar power plants operating in the province. The abrupt influx of solar power plants is causing the main line, transmission and interconnection lines to congest (Sun Star Bacolod, June 10, 2016).

This month, Negros Occidental Electric Cooperative (NOCECO) explained that one of the main reasons of higher electricity is the increase in the transmission charge from P1.0538/kWh in January 2017 to P1.1777/kWh in February 2017 or an increase of 0.1239/kWh. The transmission rate hike is due to the increase in the ancillary service charges of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP).

There are at least two issues here. First is the presence of more brownouts in Negros island despite its having the most number of installed solar power plants per sq. km. of land in the whole country, more than 300 MW.

Solar power is very unstable and intermittent, zero output at night and very low output when it is cloudy, or power fluctuates wildly if clouds come and go in minutes. So there should be more ancillary services or standby power plants, usually natural gas or diesel plants, that should quickly provide power when thick clouds come and when evening comes. Still, this causes power fluctuations that damage machines, engines and appliances running on electricity and the leadership of Negros chamber of commerce and industry have pointed this out to the DoE and NGCP last year.

Second, how is the NGCP regulated and accounted in its transmission charge pricing and assets management?

Power generation is deregulated and hence, the extent of competition among many players is the main regulator of the generation charge. Distribution charge is regulated by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) because distribution utilities (DUs) like Meralco and the roughly 119 electric cooperatives (ECs) nationwide are all monopolies in their respective franchise areas.

So while there are 120+ distribution monopolies composed of private DUs and ECs, the NGCP is a single, national monopoly in power transmission.

There are 12 different charges in our monthly electricity bill. The top six in the table below, and these five charges with lesser rates: (7) universal charge, (8) cross subsidy charge, (9) lifeline rate subsidy, (10) senior citizen subsidy, and (11) feed in tariff allowance (FiT-All). No. (12) are value-added tax (VAT) and other government taxes, these are huge too but not included in the table because they are unrelated to the electricity system.

Of these 12 different charges, subsidies and taxes, the smallest is #10 while the fastest growing is #11, FiT-All: P0.04/kWh in 2015, 0.124/kWh in 2016, and set to rise to P0.23-P0.25/kWh this 2017, the ERC still has to decide on the Transco petition for FiT-All hike (see table).

Notice in the table above the following: (1) In 2013 vs. 2017, all five charges have declined in rates in 2017 except transmission charge which has remained practically the same at P0.91/kWh. And (2) In 2014 vs. 2015, a similar pattern where all five charges have declined in rates in 2015 except transmission charge which has even increased to nearly P1/kWh.

The possible explanations why the transmission charge by NGCP seems to be the odd man out among the top six charges are (1) rising cost of more ancillary services as more intermittent solar-wind power are added into the grid, (2) it passes its own system loss to the transmission charge, (3) it simply behaves like a typical monopoly, revenue-maximizing as consumers and other players have zero option of other service supplier/s.

20170222be0f6Brownouts and expensive electricity, these are ironic events in our modern world. We should have stable and cheap electricity, no brownouts even for one minute except after heavy storms and typhoons that knock down electrical posts and power lines.

Government should step back in some heavy regulations like forcing intermittent solar-wind into the grid which can discourage some developers who can build stable and cheaper power like coal and natgas plants. And giving high price guaranty for 20 years to renewables like wind-solar is wrong and punishing the consumers. Technology changes very fast, the costs of solar and wind equipment are falling fast, so why lock the high price for 20 years? This is wrong.