Officials from Barangay Port Barton, Paleco and San Vicente appear during the question hour of provincial Board on Tuesday to discuss the power crisis in the barangay. (PN file photo)

The provincial board has urged the Palawan Electric Cooperative (PALECO) to fast-track the installation of a transmission line that will connect Port Barton in San Vicente to the main power grid and return regular electricity supply in the area.

This developed as PALECO officials informed provincial legislators Tuesday that they have an initial funding of P26 million from the National Electrification Administration (NEA) available next year, but is still short by P10 million to complete the connection.

PALECO had been prompted to takeover the operation of Port Barton’s power service after its previous distributor, PowerSource Phils. Inc (PSPI), was forced to stop operations citing financial losses. PSPI had reportedly failed to secure provisional authorization from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) for its tariff rates, that had gone as high as P59 per kilowatt hour due to inability to qualify for government subsidy.

PALECO officer-in-charge Neriza Regal said they already have P26 million from NEA but it will not be available until 2023 and that they still need an additional P10 million.

“Wala na kaming problem sa NEA, ang aming problema actually funds. Kasi ang P26 million ay base pa doon sa 2018 price index. So ngayon ay 2022 ay need namin ng additional fund to fully energize the area,” Regal explained.

Board Member Ryan Maminta proposed that PALECO start the construction at the earliest time possible and urged the local government unit of San Vicente to provide assistance.

“Kung may pera naman kayo na P38 million ‘wag na tayo maghintay ng 2023 to prioritize electrification ng Port Barton,” Maminta said.

Board Member Maria Angela Sabando also proposed that the San Vicente LGU shoulder the P10 million to start the construction.

“Maliit lang ‘yan kung kaya naman at may budget talaga ang local government unit. Sana ma-shoulder na lang ng LGU para matapos na ang problema ng Port Barton then hintayin na lang natin ang PSPI kung ano ang outcome ng kanilang problema sa ERC. Kasi kung maghihintayan tayo ay sayang ang oras, baka may P10 million ang LGU ay baka pwede mabigyan sila. This is just a suggestion lang naman kung urgent,” Sabando said.

Board Member Albert Rama also proposed the creation of the task force that will address the electricity problems in the Barangay Port Barton.

“We can create a task force or a committee to look into this matter habang naghihintay ng 2023 na masyadong matagal,” he said.

In April, PSPI halted its operation citing revenue losses for over three years after failing to secure provisional authorization from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) in conjunction with its application for Authority to Operate (ATO) and QTP Service and Subsidy Contract (QSSC).

Regal also noted that PSPI’s current tariff had not been approved by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC). She said the company only applied for tariff before ERC in 2021 and is currently pending approval.

PSPI is a qualified third party of Paleco contracted to energize the Port Barton for 10 years. The company had imposed a P22 per kilowatt tariff in 2018 but gradually increase it to P30 and then P59 when residents started to complain during the pandemic.

“We gave them 10 years to operate and under the obligation ay i-energize mo ang lahat ng areas na pinagkaloob namin pansamantala. That authority to operate has another authority from the ERC at sila nag nagre-regulate kung magkano ang tamang taripa per kilowatt hour,” she said.

“We found out na they began operating without asking ERC for the proper tariff. It was only in 2021 that they applied, meaning from 2018 ay walang approval ng ERC [kahit ‘yong] P20 ay walang authority ang ganon na taripa. It was only found out in 2021 na it is still pending with the ERC kung magkano ang sisingilin,” she added.

She also clarified that they do not have any opposition with the operation of PSPI, however, they should settle the problem with the tariff.

“Wala kaming opposition sa operation ng PSPI. Yun nga lang dapat na talaga magpalabas si ERC ng tamang taripa. Until now ay hindi pa naapprove ni ERC ang P59 per kilowatt,” she added.

Board Member Cherry Pie Acosta said the P59 per kilowatt is too much for the 1,900 families and businesses within the barangay.

“If the PSPI continues to charge P59 per kilowatt ay hindi na siguro makatarungan. Way back 2018 ay nasa P22 lang ang per kilowatt sa Port Barton hanggang sa tumaas na naging P30 at hindi nagrereklamo ang mga kababayan natin doon dahil nagboom ang tourism,” Acosta said.

“Here comes na nagkaroon ng pandemya at bagyong Odette, dito na po naramdaman na ng ating mga consumers kung gaano kabigat ang pinapataw ng PSPI at nakakalungkot dahil wala naman sila dito,” Acosta added.

As a consumer, barangay kagawad and newly-elected Sangguniang Bayan Member Melvin Balesteros also said that they are struggling with the electric price of the PSPI considering that the being tourism-dependent town were affected by the pandemic.

“Sobrang nahirapan na kami ngayon. Noon naman hindi kami nagrereklamo kasi nasa P22.7, tumataas lang naman pero kunti lang at kaya naman naming dahil kumukita ang tourism. Noong nagpandemic lang, nagpatuloy ang pagtaas nila hanggang P59, ngayong latest nila nasa P57 na. mabigat po talaga kasi kagaya sa amin na may solar na ay umaabot pa rin ng P10,000 ang bill naming. Kami na po ang sinisisi ng mga consumer,” he said.

PSPI was invited to the Question Hour but no representative came.