Friday, May 25, 2018

Power regulators urged to hasten approvals to keep rates affordable

Danessa Rivera (The Philippine Star) - May 25, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Power regulators are urged to streamline procedures and fasttrack approvals to maintain affordable power rates.
CitizenWatch Philippines said streamlining the regulatory procedures on the part of government should work hand in hand with the fast-tracking of the Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval of pending power plant applications.
The consumer rights advocate group said this should help sustain lower electricity rates, especially when Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) announced a reduction in its rates this month.
“It is laudable that despite the increasing trend of commodities, the price of electricity has gone down, but to ensure that the concerns of the end-users to affordable and reliable power are fully addressed, CitizenWatch Philippines calls for the chain method of cutting down the costs of electricity,” CitizenWatch Philippines convenor Hannah Viola said.
“The challenge for the power industry is to not break this chain. Cooperation among government and private sectors is key to solving this issue,” she said.
For this month, Meralco announced a reduction in electricity rates amounting to P0.5436 per kilowatt hour (kwh). This reduced rate translates to a decrease of P109 in the monthly bill of a typical household consuming 200 kwh.
The power distributor said the lower adjustment is due to the P0.4212 per kwh decrease in generation charge, which was largely pulled down by lower wholesale electricity spot market (WESM) prices.
The reduction in rates came at a time when rates traditionally skyrocket because of high power demand during the hot season.
Independent think tank Stratbase ADR Institute president Dindo Manhit said the drop in electricity rates should be sustained to support the government’s development plans which would need more power plants to ensure stable power supply for increasing demand.
A positive step towards keeping rates affordable is the recent issuance of the implementing rules and regulations of Executive Order 30, which aims to streamline the regulatory procedures affecting energy projects of national significance.
For the industry players, unwarranted increase should always be tempered and the entry of new plants should be coupled with the maintenance and repair of the old ones.
“While there is sense of solace in the decrease of electricity prices this month, the campaign for the lowering of power costs remains to be a long-term goal which requires continuance and consistency in action,” Viola said.

Solar-powered irrigation to cost P60 billion yearly — DA

Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - May 25, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Agriculture (DA) needs at least P60 billion yearly for the construction of solar-powered irrigation systems (SPIS) to help ensure sufficient rice supply in the country.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the government has commissioned its first fully operational P6.4-million solar-powered irrigation system in North Cotabato which could irrigate up to 40 hectares.
“The DA has shown that the SPIS works effectively and could be completed in just 60 days, compared to the 10 to 20 years needed to build big irrigation dams,” Piñol said.
“The key consideration here is the willingness of our government to invest in the SPIS which actually costs less per hectare compared to the conventional irrigation system. The government must allocate an estimate of least P60 billion every year for five years to achieve this,” he added.
The SPIS, one of DA’s flagship programs, aims to ensure sufficient rice supply in the coming years and could even result in surplus production in the country.
“With over two million hectares of rice farms in the country unserved by irrigation facilities, the SPIS — which could be installed in a period of 60 days, could help farmers plant twice a year instead of just once,” Piñol explained.
“This means that if farmers in these areas could harvest twice a year at an average of six metric tons per hectare instead of just four MT now, the country could produce an additional 16 MT of palay,” he added.
This would also translate to additional milled rice production of at least nine million MT per year.
A total of 116 units are now undergoing construction nationwide funded by the DA and implemented by different regional offices.
 “At an average area of 40 hectares, the 116 SPIS set to be completed this year will irrigate an estimated 4,680 hectares this year alone,” Piñol said.
Constructed by RU Foundry of Bacolod City, the first SPIS draws water from a creek beside the former rain-fed rice farms using a 15-horsepower Lorentz surface pump from Germany.
Water is then pumped up to a reservoir capable of holding 350-cubic meters of water and then distributed to the rice fields using pipes with valve heads which are opened to irrigate the fields.

DOE eyes use of Malampaya Fund for exploration vessel

By Lenie Lectura - May 24, 2018

The Department of Energy (DOE) has created a technical working group (TWG) to put together the legal and technical aspects of a plan that involves tapping the Malampaya Fund for the purchase of an exploration vessel.
“We created a TWG, which will be doing the specs on our decision to acquire an exploration vessel,” Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi said. “We have asked the President to use the Malampaya Fund. We’re just waiting for the President’s approval.”
If the plan secures the green light, Cusi said, “the vessel will conduct exploration activities on the West Philippines Sea and Philippine Rise.”
“We have to determine what is underneath. If we don’t have the vessel, then we can’t conduct a detailed exploration. If we won’t have the data, then we will be dependent on third-party arrangement to procure that data. We want it as our own,” he said.
While the plan awaits the green light of Duterte, Cusi said the TWG would closely work on the terms of reference for the purchase of the vessel.
He added that if this pushes through, the DOE would have to seek assistance from other government agencies to help carry out the exploration activities. “It’s going to be a collaboration with the Department of Science and Technology and the Navy, among others. We can’t do it alone,” Cusi said.
He added the plan needs the green light of the President because the Malampaya Fund could only be utilized for energy development projects.
The government’s share from the energy resource development fund, commonly known as the Malampaya Fund, reached P16.25 billion in 2017, 21 percent higher than the previous year’s collection. The DOE, which collects Malampaya royalties, recorded a collection of P16,250,694,944.30 in 2017. This brings the total royalties to P251,893,422,351.68 since 2002. The highest collection—P37,458,390,948.09—was recorded in 2009, records show.
The DOE’s collection is turned over to the Bureau of the Treasury.
During a Senate hearing in March, Energy Assistant Secretary Gerardo Erquiza said the proposed seismic vessels will be used for oil and gas exploration.
Sen. Sherwin T. Gatchalian supports the proposal. “One of these vessels will cost P1.2 billion, which can be covered by the Malampaya Fund…. These ships can also do marine research, but primary role is seismic research,” the senator said.
The DOE earlier called on lawmakers to pass a legislation that will allow the government to tap the Malampaya Fund to pay for the P53 billion worth of debts incurred by the National Power Corp. over the years.