Electric cooperatives and system loss

* This is my article in BusinessWorld last Friday.

Three news reports published by BusinessWorld during the past few days indicated that the energy sector in the Philippines and its several neighbors is becoming more efficient, market-oriented, and less bureaucratic. These news articles were (1) “ERC declines to intervene in 4 Meralco power deals” (Sept. 20), “DoE says no plans to extend FiT for biomass, river projects” (Sept. 26), and “Malaysia, Thailand, Laos to sign energy-trading deal” (Sept. 26).

The first article says that the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) is upholding its own rule to stop intervention after a deadline for petition against any power supply agreement (PSA) has been met.

The second one says that the Department of Energy (DoE) will not extend the feed in tariff (FiT) or guaranteed high price for renewables for 20 years, for undersubscribed biomass and run of river hydro power. This move will protect electricity consumers from further high electricity prices.

The third story says that electricity trading in the three countries mentioned will mean greater power stability and more price competition among power producers. This is like expanding our Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) from national to regional trading.

To add to this list of positive news, it has also been reported that power transmission and distribution in the region have become more efficient, cutting down on system losses.

Within a decade, the Philippines, for instance, has managed to chop system losses from 12.9% to 9.4% of electricity output, an efficiency gain of 3.5% (See table).


Based on the table, economies with low system losses have high electricity consumption per capita, except Hong Kong. And vice versa, countries with high system losses of at least 9% tend to have low per capita electricity use.

And this implies that the technology and administrative processes to bring down system losses are generally correlated with the wealth and industrialization of an economy.

There are several attempts both in Congress and the ERC to significantly reduce the distribution system loss by distribution utilities (DUs).

The ERC Draft Rules intend to make high consideration if not outright favoritism of many electric cooperatives (ECs) by giving them (a) high technical loss (mainly conductor loss and no load loss) cap of 5.5-7.0%, (b) high cap on nontechnical loss (illegal connection, direct theft, meter error, billing irregularity) of 4.5%, total of 10-12.5% distribution system loss that can be passed to consumers. In contrast, (c) private DUs will be forced to have a low technical loss cap of only 2.75%, and low nontechnical loss cap of only 1.25% or total of only 4% distribution system loss by private DUs.

This is not a good plan for the following reasons.

One, it institutionalizes a double-standard. Favoring ECs and allowing them to remain wasteful and pass the additional cost of high system loss to the consumers vis-a-vis strict monitoring of private DUs and disallowing them to pass high system losses charges to their consumers.

Two, it does not pressure or discipline the ECs and force them to become more efficient in cutting their system losses. As a result, it is not possible to bring down the system loss to the levels of Thailand, Malaysia, China, Japan, Singapore if this attitude and policy is further adopted.

Three, it does not push many inefficient ECs to be corporatized, to behave like many private corporations that are forced by SEC regulations to be more transparent.

Four, it remains silent on transmission system loss of the sole grid operator, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP).

Government through the ERC should create rules that apply to all players — ECs in the provinces and private DUs in big urban centers — no exceptions or favoritism, and give consumers further reduction in overall electricity prices.

Forcing both provincial ECs and private DUs to have low system loss at uniform rates is consistent with enforcing the rule of law, consistent with encouraging more competition, consistent with the spirit of EPIRA law of 2001.


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.