THE Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has asserted its independence, particularly in relation to its ongoing probe into more than 2,000 electricity pole fires in Iloilo City since 2016, following the supposed joint press conference called by the franchise-less utility Panay Electric Co. (PECO) with the agency.
ERC chairperson Agnes Devanadera assured the public of an impartial inquiry as she denied that the ERC was part of a media event organized by PECO in the Makati City office of its lawyers last November 14.
PECO held a press conference last November 14 in the Divina Law Office in Makati City with its digital visual presentation proclaiming the media event as a “PECO ERC PressCon”.
A photo of Marcelo Cacho, head of PECO’s Public Engagement and Government Affairs, came out in online news sites and TV news reports showing him presiding at the press conference.
Responding to an appeal from Iloilo City Rep. Julienne Baronda and PBA party-list Rep. Jericho Jonas B. Nograles, vice-chairperson of the House Committee on Energy, to speed up the ERC investigation into the issue, Devanadera also said the Commission has completed its field inspection and data gathering as part of its investigation into the series of pole fire incidents in the PECO franchise area.
The ERC dispatched an Inspection Team during the first week of November in response to the letter-complaint filed by Mayor Geronimo Treñas of Iloilo City due to a series of fire incidents involving electric poles within PECO’s franchise area.
The inspection teams looked into the different aspects of PECO’s distribution system.
“It would be prudent for the Commission to evaluate and analyze the situation surrounding the reported pole fire incidents in PECO’s franchise area wholistically and not on a per incident or asset basis.
“The way that the poles are maintained over the years and the remaining useful life of the poles also needs to be looked into. We are mindful of the urgency of resolving this matter and we wish to assure the public that this is among the priority concerns of the Commission,” ERC Chair Devanadera added.
Mayor Treñas said he filed the complaint to address PECO’s failure to prevent the continuing threat to public safety of its alleged “inadequately-maintained lines, power outages and hazardous electric posts” because of the numerous and continuing cases of electricity pole fires in the city.
PECO held the November 14 press conference to belie the claim of Treñas, which the city’s fire department supported with a report to the ERC last October 30 that more than half of the 2,887 fire incidents in Iloilo City from January 2016 to October 2019 were caused by “Short Circuit Secondary Service Line.”
Cacho claimed that its tests proved that most of the electricity pole fires were actually caused by the allegedly sub-standard wires connected by telecommunications companies to its poles.
But Iloilo City Fire Marshall Chief Inspector Christopher Regencia that per his experience, pole fires were caused by electricity wires because they carried higher voltage of up to 240 volts compared to telecommunication wires which carried only up to 24 volts.
PECO had lost its congressional franchise after failing to convince Congress to renew it when it expired in January 18 this year.
The franchise-less utility is now operating under a provisional Certificate of ‘Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) from the ERC until the new distribution utility, More Electric and Power Corp., completes its supposed full takeover of the city’s distribution system.
PECO reportedly has a P97-million real estate tax obligation and has offered to settle it but failed to convince the city government to accept the lower offer, resulting in Treñas approving an auction on December 12 of PECO’s distribution assets, including the purported dilapidated electricity poles and the land where they stand on, with a floor price of P106 million to pay off the utility’s tax obligations.
Losing these vital distribution assets could affect the viability of PECO’s provisional CPCN as the ERC resolution governing its issuance of the operating permits to utilities require the recipients to ensure they have continued compliance with financial and regulatory requirements, according to Iloilo City Business Permits and Licenses Office (BPLO) chief Norman Tabud.