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Thai businessmen show strong interest in Phl energy

During my trip to Bangkok last week, I had a chance to meet with some Thai businessmen who seem to have a high level of interest in the Philippine energy sector. Thanks to Ambassador Thanatip Upatising, and Rathanand Vichaidit, first secretary of the Thai Embassy in Manila, the meetings they helped arrange for me were quite fruitful and interesting, particularly with potential investors who want to do business in the Philippines in the area of renewables.

The Thai government has embarked on a 10-year alternative energy development plan covering the period until 2021 to promote the use of alternative energy by as much as 25 percent to lessen their dependence on imports, with focus on solar, wind, hydro, biomass and geothermal power – energy sources that are also available in the Philippines.

An interesting development in the Thai energy sector is “waste-from-energy” production involving a “plasma gasification technology” where industrial and agricultural wastewater can become a source of power by converting waste into synthetic gas and electricity. A major energy company in Thailand has recently partnered with a US-based company for a waste-to-energy project that will first be conducted in Phetchaburi province.

It’s a promising concept worth looking at because it has the potential not only to provide energy at a reasonable price, but can also help solve the problem of water pollution caused by industrial pollutants from manufacturing companies especially in Metro Manila (not to mention the waste coming from humans living along coastal areas).

In the Philippines, local power companies are also looking at renewable energy, such as the Alsons Power Group — Mindanao’s first and most experienced independent power producer — that has set aside $650 million for hydro and solar power projects within the next five years. I’m told the company is looking at 180 megawatts of capacity from greenfield run-of-river hydropower projects starting in Sarangani Province (15 megawatts), followed by a 40-MW hydropower project in Negros Occidental, and two more expected to be rolled out in the next few years. The company is also embarking on solar projects to be located in General Santos City.

Unnecessary muscle flexing?

The Court of Appeals’ issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction that effectively prevented the Philippine Competition Commission from “conducting further proceedings for the pre-acquisition review and/or investigation” of the P70-billion acquisition deal of San Miguel Corporation’s telecom assets by Globe and PLDT/Smart is seen as a welcome development since the continued probe would have had a negative impact on the efforts of PLDT to raise funds and bankroll the “necessary infrastructure badly needed to improve internet speed and connection nationwide.”

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According to industry observers, the court order placed great importance on the public good by allowing the telcos to continue with the implementation of the buyout agreement, including the use of the long-idle 700 MHz frequencies that are key in improving internet services in the country. It can be recalled the National Telecommunications Commission gave the approval for the buyout subject to several conditions, among them the requirement for PLDT/Smart and Globe to come out with a rollout plan that would address the growing demand for internet access especially in the countryside.

The telcos immediately complied by rolling out sites for the activation of the 700 MHz spectrum especially in areas with a high convergence of users like the NCR. PLDT also took heed of the call by then-incoming President Rodrigo Duterte for the telcos to deliver faster internet services by putting up its first 700 MHz base station in Tanay, Rizal and right after that, at Ecoland in Matina, Davao City where users recorded an “unprecedented” internet speed of 101 mbps.

The deal also requires both telcos to return several frequency bands to the NTC, which could then be assigned to a new player – and this should put to rest fears of a “duopoly,” noted observers, who also pointed out the PCC’s decision to review the buyout was in violation of the law which created the regulatory body and runs contrary to PCC’s own implementing rules and regulations.

The appellate court upheld PLDT’s position that “due to the ‘deemed approved’ status extended to the subject acquisition,” the telco has a “clear right to be protected from the pre-acquisition review and/or investigation conducted by respondent PCC.” Besides which, the PCC action will delay and deprive the delivery of cheaper and faster internet services to the public — something the president had promised when he assumed the presidency.

Globe also pointed out the inconsistency in the PCC move since the P70-million buyout deal was within the “safe harbor period” prescribed by the PCC itself — saying a deal is “deemed approved” if and when it is consummated “after the effectivity of the memorandum circular but before the effectivity of the implementing rules and regulations.”

According to Globe, PCC’s statement that the transaction could still be subject to review is contrary to the regulatory agency’s own rules — once again a display of “changing rules in the middle of the game,” if not a whimsical act – issues that have been the subject of complaint by investors who are turned off by inconsistent policies and the propensity of certain agencies to renege on contracts and change rules midstream. 

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Email: spybits08@gmail.com

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