Extending electricity services to far and remote areas in the Philippines is always a challenge for every administration. Given the archipelagic nature of the country, bringing electricity to these unserved or underserved areas will require an enormous infrastructure set-up that may eventually raise the cost of power and bring further misery to those living in off-grid towns and barrios.
A House bill ready for signing by President Rodrigo Duterte, however, seeks to overcome the formidable obstacles to rural electrification. House Bill 8179 aims to give Solar Para Sa Bayan a non-exclusive right to operate micro-grids in unserved or underserved areas in selected provinces at zero cost to government.
Power generators, especially electric cooperatives, have opposed the bill, claiming it threatens their existing businesses. But inefficient cooperatives have no right to deprive consumers of their right to choose their own suppliers. It is not surprising then that the bill has received the support of over 20 million Filipinos, per Facebook postings.
Several local government units have directly written President Duterte, attesting to the positive impact of SPSB’s projects in their towns and the further benefits that will come should the proposed bill become a law.
Mayor Carl Pangilinan of Paluan, Occidental Mindoro wrote: “Mr. President, if this House Bill will be a law, this will give new choices for improved electricity. By granting franchise for Solar Para Sa Bayan, the unserved and underserved areas in the whole country will be just like our Municipality, having a reliable, efficient, sufficient and cheap electricity without compromising the environment.”
Misamis Occidental Governor and former Tangub City Mayor Phillip Tan agreed “With the advent of the Solar Para Sa Bayan Project and the timely approval of this law, the bane of extended power outages and exorbitant energy prices will now become a thing of the past,” he said.
Many probinsyanos in our midst have long endured high electricity rates, power outages and unstable supply. They will be relieved to find out what SPSB has already accomplished in some areas in the Philippines.
Paluan Electric Consumers Association representative Jeffrey Huertas is another supporter of HB 8179. “We appeal to our leaders to look past the self-serving positions of electric cooperatives, who wish to prevent the entry of competition, and power companies, who do not even know what it is like to live in areas without adequate electricity. Towns like ours are already benefiting from the service of Solar Para Sa Bayan, and it is time other underserved towns across our country enjoy a new choice for electricity.”
Critics of the bill are muddling the issue, labeling it as a “mega-franchise,” when it is not in reality. It is already a watered-down bill. They have conveniently omitted the fact that the SPSB franchise is non-exclusive, and has been extensively watered down by Senate and Congress, with the amended title, “An Act Granting Solar Para Sa Bayan Corporation a Franchise… [for] Microgrids in the Remote and Unviable, or Unserved, or Underserved Areas in Selected Provinces of the Philippines.”
The latest version of the bill limited the scope to “remote and unviable, unserved, or underserved areas,” and only in selected provinces, comprising less than 2 percent of the total power demand of the Philippines. It requires the use of renewable energy technology, with the franchisee subject to regulation by the Energy Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy, pursuant to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act.
More importantly, the bill ensured that the franchisee would not be entitled to any government subsidy.
Electric utilities that have been entrenched for over 100 years and have claimed that Solar Para Sa Bayan is anti-competitive should instead look at themselves in the mirror. They are ganging up on even the slightest threat that consumers may now finally have a new choice for electricity.
SPSB’s franchise is necessary to energize unserved and underserved areas. SPSB is already operating in 12 towns in eight provinces, benefiting over 200,000 Filipinos with cheap electricity from solar resources.
The approval of HB 8179 should serve as a wake-up call for utilities to improve their service and embrace new technologies, just as landline companies like PLDT Inc. adapted to the reality of mobile phones. This should be the model for the power industry. Disruptive technologies are for them to embrace, not resist, or risk obsolescence in the near future.
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