The Senate’s recent decision to hold a second and deeper probe into the power situation in Palawan places the Palawan Electric Cooperative (Paleco) and its independent power producers on the spot.
In an interview this week by reporter Ruth Rodriguez, Senate energy committee chair Win Gatchalian announced they found the report of the National Electrification Administration (NEA) inadequate to explain in depth what ails the province’s power sector and what can be done to stabilize the supply and distribution issues besetting the province.
The main premise of the Senate’s forthcoming probe is that contrary to Paleco’s assurance that the grid’s power supply has now stabilized, the status quo remains problematic, at least with respect to how Paleco relates and deals with its independent electricity suppliers.
The Senate is keen to probe deeper into the contracts of the IPPs, particularly Paleco’s contract with DMCI Power Corporation. The Consunji affiliate, a new player in Palawan, won a 25MW contract via a low priced coal bid that trumped its competitor’s bunker technology proposal back in 2012, in an open bidding process conducted by Paleco.
The construction of the DMCI coal plant however has faced numerous roadblocks even with the broad support the company enjoyed from local political leaders. It faced stiff resistance and legal challenges at every juncture from local communities and civil society groups. It was doomed not to be granted any permit at least when Gina Lopez was secretary of environment.
Senator Gatchalian has openly criticized Paleco over how it deals with Consunji conglomerates power arm, echoing the criticisms being raised by anti coal groups that Paleco has been coddling the company despite its failure to deliver.
The warning issued by Gatchalian that they may ask NEA to take over Paleco is a direct challenge and premised on an accusation of misdeed. How far the Senate will bring this probe from Senator Gatchalian’s initial bravado remains to be seen. DMCI is already entrenched in the province and has other business interests that it needs to protect including its mining operations in Southern Palawan (which was also suspended by Gina Lopez during her term).
Senator Gatchalian’s interest in untangling the complicated political and economic configuration of Palawan’s power sector is laudable at best. Where and how this inquiry ends remains a question and a challenge of political will to Gatchalian and the Senate.