Chairman of the Senate energy committee Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian filed a bill last week aiming to create an energy industry watchdog that would represent the consumers in all rate-setting, rule-making, and other energy related issues and proceeding before government agencies.
The measure, Senate Bill (SB) 2222, is drafted to establish an independent consumer representation, which will be the Energy Consumer Advocate Office (ECAO), in the energy industry, as there seems to lack of representation for consumers in cases being filed before Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), Gatchalian said.
ECAO will be tasked to represent consumers on matters regarding the public interest before any department, commission, agency, or court in the energy sector.
“The state must recognize the right of energy consumers to reasonable rates, adequate and reliable services, and transparent processes involving these rates and services,” he was quoted in a Manila Bulletin report.
“Towards this end, there is a need for institutionalized and independent consumer representation in energy-related cases and proceedings before government agencies,’’ he explained.
Under the Republic Act 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), the ERC is responsible to set performance standards and retail rates in the energy sector. In addition, it is also part of the regulatory body’s responsibility to allow the recovery of just and reasonable costs and return, as well as ensure consumer protection.
ECAO will be headed by the Energy Consumer Advocate (ECA), and shall be an independent and autonomous office affiliated to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
However, members of ECA and Deputy ECA cannot be part of any energy company during their term in the office to ensure there would be no conflict of interest. They also shouldn’t be member of any political party or committee.
“The creation of the ECAO aims to attain what jurisdictions with an institutionalized consumer advocate have, such as the postponement of utilities’ rate increase applications, a decrease in the income of utilities, and lower electricity retail prices,” Gatchalian said.