Stakeholders oppose national franchise for solar firm

STAKEHOLDERS belonging to the electric cooperatives in the country are opposing the passage of House Bill 8179 that would grant a nationwide franchise to a single private company to provide solar power in the communities.

The Association of Mindanao Rural Electric Cooperatives Inc. (Amreco), with its national organization, the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperative Association (Philreca), averred that HB 8179 would effectively grant the Solar Para sa Bayan (SPSB), a company owned by businessman Leandro Leviste, a monopoly over all aspects of solar-powered mini-grid development in the entire country, thus killing competition in the renewable energy sector.

The electric cooperatives (ECs), in a press conference during the Amreco 3rd Annual General Membership Assembly and Summit, held in one of the hotels in the city on Monday, have outlined the most alarming features of HB 8179, which they said undermine democratic processes.

The ECs said that HB 8179, once enacted, will give undue favor to one private company, SPSB, blanket authority to establish solar mini-grids in the entire country with no oversight or consumer protections. And the only obligation of the company under the proposed law is to submit an annual report on operations with a measly P500/day fine for failure to submit.

“HB 8179 has no provision on electrification obligations. While SPSB asserts in the bill’s explanatory note that stress the electrification needs of those with little to access to the grid, nowhere does the house bill mentioned unserved or underserved communities, nor is there measurable or the private company to actually and concretely provide electricity to any specific areas,” said Sergio Dagooc, president of the National Association of General Managers of Electric Cooperatives.

With millions of Filipinos still without access to electricity, the need is so great that opportunities for all renewable energy developers be widened in order to lower power rates and improve services, and not add layers of regulations and bureaucracy through the requirements of a franchise that has never been imposed before, thus the proposed bill effectively kills competition.

“Even if this proposed franchise, which is purportedly ‘non-exclusive’, it means in reality that the solar energy developers in mini-grids in the country would be stopped and be required to first apply to Congress for a franchise, which has no legal basis and necessity, that which under and open circumstances, would entail a long and complex process,” said Presly de Jesus, Philreca president.

The ECs said that contrary to normal democratic practice and processes, and the basic principles of decency, notwithstanding fair play, HB 8179 was swiftly approved by the House Committee on Franchises after one hearing only, and the said hearing was only attended by SPSB and government agencies without the participation from civil society of the private sector and the stakeholders.

Corazon Cullantes, Amreco president questioned the bill for the haste it was approved. “If HB 8179 is truly solar ‘para sa bayan,’ why the haste for its approval? Why the lack of transparency and the special treatment of one private company?,” she said.

“Thus, we are calling for open access, fair competition and genuine democratization of the energy sector,” she added.

The ECs are urging Congress to return HB 8179 to the committee for genuine public consultations “so that we can focus on reforms that support and enable all renewable energy developers in the private sector and civil society to electrify underserved and unserved communities in the entire country.”

SunStar Publishing Inc.