Monthly Archives: September 2015

In the Philippines, we tax energy not subsidise it

One interesting insight I got from this article of this economist is the reason why power in the Philippines is so expensive is it is not subsidise like other countries. Furthermore, the government has sought to levy taxes as well as impose a very regulated framework on the industry.

From BusinessWorld Philippines

By Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr.

The Philippine electricity market: Monopoly and competition

ENERGY is development, and that includes electricity. It is not possible for an economy to grow fast and have sustainable development if its power supply and distribution are unstable and costly. Thus, having sufficient, stable, and affordable electricity is a necessary though not sufficient condition for economic development.

The Philippines remains to have among the most expensive electricity prices in Asia. Here are data with some breakdown also shown, including the cost of power generation, cost of grid/transmission, and value added tax (VAT) or gross sales tax (GST). Of the 14 major cities in North and Southeast Asia plus Australia and New Zealand listed below, Manila has the 3rd most expensive electricity prices — 3rd in overall residential tariff, 3rd in generation cost, 3rd in grid charges, and 3rd in tax rates. (See Table 1)

Some reasons why other Asian cities and countries have lower electricity prices than the Philippines are as follows:

One, their government subsidizes electricity while the Philippine government imposes multiple taxes, royalties, and fees on power. The VAT rates are shown above, and royalties alone for Malampaya natural gas are as high as P1.45/kWh, and this is ultimately passed on to the consumers.

Two, Philippines power generation capacity is low, with total primary energy supply (TPES) in 2012 for instance only 0.44 tons of oil equivalent (toe) per person per year. Indonesia has twice, Thailand has four times, Malaysia has six times, and Singapore has 11 times that amount.

So with these two factors — high electricity prices and low power generation — average electricity consumption is also low, only 668 kWh per person per year in 2012. (See Table 2)

The Philippine power and electricity sector is characterized by a mixture of competition and monopolies. Power generation is generally competitive with many generation companies (gencos) slugging at each other. Power transmission is a national monopoly via the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP). And electricity distribution is reserved to geographical monopolies, mainly the 120 electric cooperatives (ECs) nationwide, the biggest of which, Manila Electric Company (Meralco), accounts for about 75 percent of total electricity sales in Luzon and about 55 percent nationwide.

The issue of high electricity prices in the country has resurfaced once again but in a different angle. In current practices, the various ECs and distribution utilities (DUs) have bilateral contracts with different gencos, and such bilateral arrangement is sometimes suspected of being “sweetheart deals,” wherein both the gencos and DUs benefit to the disadvantage of the consumers.

To address this concern, the Department of Energy (DoE), on the watch of then secretary Carlos Jericho L. Petilla, issued Circular No. DC2015-06-0008, “Mandating All Distribution Utilities to Undergo Competitive Selection Process (CSP) in Securing Power Supply Agreements (PSA).” The order was dated June 11, 2015, or about two weeks before Mr. Petilla’s resignation.

The general principles behind this circular are to (a) increase transparency in the procurement process, (b) promote and instill competition in the procurement and supply of electric power to end-users, (c) ascertain least-cost outcomes, and (d) protect public interest.

Entities that will be covered are ECs, private investment-owned distribution utilities (PIOUs), multipurpose cooperatives, entities within economic zones, and other authorized entities engaged in the distribution of electricity.

Aside from suspicions of “sweetheart deals,” some DUs and ECs have their own gencos. Cross-ownership of DUs and gencos is allowed in the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) of 2001. Two examples here.

One is Meralco, whose wholly owned subsidiary, Meralco PowerGen Corp. (MGen), is targeting a portfolio of 3,000 MW by 2020. MGen is planning or constructing two other big power plants, the 1,200-MW Atimonan, Quezon, coal plant, and the 500-MW San Buenaventura, Quezon, coal plant, both slated for 2018. Another consortium, the Redondo Peninsula Energy, Inc., is slated to open its $1.2-billion, 600-MW coal power plant in Subic in 2018.

Two are the three DUs of Aboitiz Power — Visayan Electric Co., Subic Enerzone Lima Enerzone, and Davao Light.

By forcing the ECs and DUs to undergo competitive bidding for their power supply contracts, the DOE hopes to break or minimize the practice, or at least minimize suspicions, of price-rigging.

This is definitely a welcome move for independent power producers (IPPs) which have little or no cross-ownership and control with ECs and DUs. They will have a fairer level playing field in getting supply contracts. But while the goal is laudable, the circular will be unable to address other problems and contributors to expensive electricity in the country. Among these are the following.

1. High and multiple taxes, royalties, and fees imposed on natural gas and other energy sources and on electricity generation/transmission/distribution businesses.

2. Expensive electricity is also being imposed recently by RA 9513 or the Renewable Energy (RE) Act of 2008, wherein wind, solar and biomass are given guaranteed prices via feed in tariff (FIT) for 20 years.

3. Monopoly characteristic of ECs and DUs because electricity distribution is considered a “public utility” and, hence, protected by the Constitution and franchise laws. Abuse of power is a possibility that is always second nature to any monopolist. This will require amending the Constitution.

A compromise will have to be made, like having a transition period to allow the maturity of existing power supply contracts.

The long-term measures to address structural problems that lead to expensive electricity is to limit government intervention, to step back. Like amending the tax code to reduce or abolish certain taxes on energy, amending the RE law to abolish the FIT provision, and amending the Constitution to remove economic protectionism.

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. heads a free-market think tank, Minimal Government Thinkers, Inc., and is a fellow of the South East Asia Network for Development (SEANET).


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THIS is a continuation of an earlier discussion, “The Philippine electricity market: Monopoly and competition” (Weekender, August 14).

As noted in that article, Carlos Jericho L. Petilla had issued, before he resigned as energy secretary last June, DoE Circular No. DC2015-06-0008, “Mandating All Distribution Utilities to Undergo Competitive Selection Process (CSP) in Securing Power Supply Agreements (PSA).” That order aims to address, among other things, the suspicion of “sweetheart deals” between some big electric cooperatives (ECs) and distribution utilities (DUs), on the one hand, and the generating companies (gencos), on the other, resulting in expensive electricity prices in the Philippines.

Here is another data, a bit old, from a 2013 commissioned study by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The first set shows the actual prices including taxes (in Philippines and Singapore) and subsidies (Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia), and the second set, adjusted prices if taxes and subsidies were minimized, next to zero.

The USAID report explained why the adjustment was done: “Several factors may explain these wide differences. One is tax: effectively 9% in the Philippines, as opposed to 6% in Malaysia and 7% in Singapore and Thailand, albeit 10% in Indonesia. But the bigger contributor to the price differences is the implicit subsidies to state-owned utilities. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that the electricity subsidies in 2011 in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand were at least 5.56, 0.94, and 5.67 billion US dollars, respectively….”

Thus, most if not all comparative electricity prices are based on artificial pricing. People blame gencos or the big DUs but not governments which intervene a lot in electricity pricing, resulting in either very high or very low prices.

The DOE Circular was the subject of discussion in a forum organized by the Energy Policy Development Program (EPDP) early this month. There were six speakers, led by OIC-Secretary Zenaida Y. Monsada of the Department of Energy (DoE), Director Mylene Capongcol also of the DoE, UP School of Economics professors Raul Fabella and Ruperto Alonzo, UP College of Engineering professor Rowaldo del Mundo, and Romeo Bernardo of LBT Consulting.

Mr. del Mundo is the lead technical adviser to the Central Luzon Electric Cooperatives Association-First Luzon Aggregation Group (CLECAFLAG) under the USAID COMPETE project. Twelve ECs in Central Luzon aggregated their total power demand of 300 MW, auctioned it off, and contracted for 20 years the winning supplier, won by GN Power (with expanded capacity of 1,200 MW in Bataan). In his presentation, Mr. del Mundo showed this table of comparative electricity prices in the ASEAN.

By pounding on the need for demand aggregation by DUs as shown in the CLECAFLAG experience, Mr. del Mundo concluded, “The mandatory CSP is the only antidote to [the] EPIRA’s [Electric Power Industry Reform Act] cross-ownership that will avoid temptation to parties with conflict of objectives.”

There is a problem in this conclusion of supporting mandatory or obligatory, instead of voluntary, CSP, based on specific circumstances among DUs and gencos. For the following reasons:

One, as shown in Table 1, we have high electricity prices because the government imposes many taxes on energy while other ASEAN countries subsidize their energy consumption.

Two, Mr. Bernardo noted in his presentation that “Growing pains from regulatory uncertainty, and contracting, approval, and construction bottlenecks have delayed new plants. The average time it takes to build a baseload power plant in the Philippines is probably double elsewhere. Just getting approvals, coupled with overcoming NIMBY opponents, is an ordeal.” And he showed this list of some 200 signatures and permits needed to put up one baseload plant.

Three, Mr. Fabella suggested market testing of PSA contracts instead of mandatory CSP. Market testing is easier to enforce because the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) only verifies and approves the market test (say, auction) employed, and is easier to defend in public. There are many modalities for market testing like the cases in Chile, Brazil, New England.

Four, there’s the big question of who are the “third parties” that will be recognized by the DoE, the ERC, and the National Electrification Administration (NEA) which will approve or disapprove the PSA between the DUs and gencos. Will they work for free? Very unlikely. Rather, the DOE and ERC will be forced to make extra budgetary requests to pay for these “third parties” including allowances for their meetings and public consultations.

It is also possible that NGOs, the media, and other sectors actively or silently supporting the “Repeal/Abrogate EPIRA” movement may position themselves as “third party” referees. The DoE circular is not about repealing or tinkering with the EPIRA.

In short, the DoE circular is barking at the wrong tree: By making the competitive bidding mandatory rather than voluntary, it will invite or create more problems than what it intends to solve. The circular should therefore be withdrawn. Or amended to make CSP voluntary, not mandatory. The DoE and other government agencies should instead address other problems and contributors to expensive electricity in the country. Like multiple taxes, numerous permits by the Philippine government, from the barangay to city/municipal, provincial, and national government offices and agencies. Requiring a firm to present up to 200 different permits would expose it to 200 different opportunities of corruption and extortion.

Government should simply learn to step back from too much intervention, regulation, and taxation.

Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is president of the free-market think tank Minimal Government Thinkers, Inc., and a fellow of the South East Asia Network for Development (SEANET).


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