MANILA, August 26, 2005 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - The "energy police" are coming.

The Philippines announced yesterday that teams of "energy police" will enforce a host of new measures to cut government energy consumption to help beat record-high crude oil prices.

The measures — which range from lowering air conditioning temperatures in offices to unplugging computers — are aimed at meeting President Arroyo’s target of slashing government energy use by 10 percent.

"Energy audit teams" will begin unannounced spot checks next week of government offices, colleges and universities and state-owned corporations to ensure they meet the guidelines, Energy Undersecretary Peter Abaya said.

Under the new rules, government buildings must replace ordinary light bulbs with energy-saving fluorescent lamps and set air conditioning units at 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit), turning them off an hour before the close of office hours, Abaya said.

Air conditioning accounts for 70 percent of the electricity costs of offices in the tropical Philippines, he said.

The measures also require government buildings to reset their elevators to skip every other floor and employees to unplug computers that are not being used.

As she moonlighted yesterday as a talk show host on state-run television station NBN-4, the President said a 15-man team from the Department of Energy would police the different government agencies to comply with the government’s directive to conserve fuel and electricity.

Mrs. Arroyo introduced the members of her energy audit team, composed of Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Waldo Flores, Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla and Abaya.

The President asked the team to immediately check whether "energy conservation officers" had been designated in the different departments, government-owned and -controlled corporations, financial institutions and state colleges and universities.

These "enercon officers" will spearhead the conservation programs in their respective agencies while the energy audit team will rate these government institutions based on their energy conservation or "EC way of life."

Earlier, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Abaya said government agencies will be graded on how they were implementing conservation measures.

"Site inspection and monthly electric bills will form the basis of a rating system for all agencies under the executive branch of government. The agencies with high energy consciousness will merit an ‘A’ rating while those who flunk the audit would have to bear the shame of an ‘F’ rating. Agencies within the minimum compliance or a passing mark will be given a ‘C’ rating," Ermita said.

Travel restrictions have also been imposed on the government’s fleet of 74,000 vehicles, which will have to start using gasoline or diesel mixed with ethanol or other renewable fuel additives.

The President told the energy audit team to deliver her good news from the field, such as creative and reasonable ways of hitting the target of reducing fuel consumption in government by 10 percent so the private sector could follow the government’s lead in energy conservation.

Civil servants wanting to use government vehicles will have to secure official permits to prevent their illegal use for personal errands.

Drivers have also been banned from idling their engines while waiting in parking lots and government agencies will be required to record the fuel consumption of all vehicles in their fleets.

The Philippines imports practically all of its oil, which was priced at close to $68 a barrel Tuesday, and officials have warned that it faces slower economic growth and higher inflation and could see its foreign exchange reserves depleted unless international oil prices fall.

Mrs. Arroyo said the Philippines imported about 126 million barrels of oil last year, of which 58 percent was for the transport sector.

The government had to lead by example in pushing for energy conservation, she said.

"We cannot control the price of oil," the President said in a televised news conference with energy department officials. "But we can control our commitment to energy conservation and efficiency measures."

Mrs. Arroyo has said she would ask Congress to give her emergency powers to impose drastic conservation measures on the general public, including possible fuel rationing, if necessary.

The President noted the government would have to look for $1.26 billion for every $10 increase in the prices of oil in the world market.

"The government is calling for efficiency… Fuel efficiency calls us to do better with less. The time demands prudence in the use of fuel and electricity, without compromising our effectiveness," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said specific guidelines were outlined for implementation in all government agencies and offices to strike a balance by reducing oil consumption by 10 percent but without sacrificing priorities and performance commitments.

She said if each government-owned vehicle would reduce fuel consumption by at least one liter per day for six months, this alone would translate into 9.8 million liters of fuel saved or about P294 million in savings.

Mrs. Arroyo said government agencies could also reduce their consumption of water and electricity, to which the government allocated P4.5 billion. Targeting a 10-percent reduction in this expense easily translates to another savings of P450 million in programmed costs, she said.

Through the leadership of government and the cooperation of every sector, she said "the country could surmount the hurdles of volatile oil prices given our existing resources."

"We can only beat the odds if we can stretch further our efficiency and effectiveness," the President stressed. Virtual meetings Mrs. Arroyo also asked officials to start having "virtual meetings" or cyber exchanges, saying this was one efficient way of doing their jobs and saving energy and fuel as well.

The President said it would be easier to coordinate through the Internet by e-mail and chat sessions.

Mrs. Arroyo said this when Flores told her that he would want to meet with the officials of government agencies to explain the grading system of the energy audit team.

"Meetings again? That means they would have to take the cars again. If you want to be more efficient, this is the age of information technology. I think, rather than meetings, virtual meetings are more efficient," the President said.

She said government officials "should avoid having meetings... That is no longer acceptable in the 21st century because we can work though ICT (information and communication technology)."

Hearing this, Flores said he would send the checklist or the criteria in grading the different agencies through the Internet.

The President said the use of elevators in government buildings should be regulated, adding that she prefers to use the stairs anyway.

She disclosed that when she was still at the Department of Trade and Industry and the Garments and Textile Export Board, she would shuttle between her two offices, both on the fourth floor of different buildings, walking up and down the stairs.

"And I guess that is why I am still healthy up to now," the President said. — With AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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