Stakeholders, lawmakers raise concern over solar power franchise

Stakeholders, lawmakers raise concern over solar power franchise

Danessa Rivera, Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - September 14, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Several power industry stakeholders and lawmakers are raising concerns over a House bill that seeks to grant a nationwide franchise to a subsidiary of Solar Philippines, a solar power company founded by Sen. Loren Legarda’s son Leandro Leviste.

In a joint media briefing yesterday, members of the Philippine Solar and Storage Energy Alliance (PSSEA), Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association Inc. (Philreca), Organization of Socialized Housing Developers of the Philippines, Center for Renewable Energy and Science and Technology, Renewable Energy Association of the Philippines and Confederation of Solar Developers in the Philippines expressed opposition to the passage of HB 8179.

“We are deeply troubled and alarmed by HB 8179 because it effectively grants a monopoly and exempts one private company from the rules of competition and oversight provided under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 and the Renewable Energy Act,” the joint statement read.

“We believe there is no legal necessity to grant Solar Para Sa Bayan Corp. (SPSBC) a nationwide franchise since there are existing regulatory framework allowing any entity – whether private or public, including local government units and non-government organizations – to participate in the provision of electricity in un-served or un-energized areas,” it said.

Leviste, however, said these claims are not according to the bill recommended by the House committee on legislative franchises.

“The text explicitly states it is non-exclusive, gives no incentives, incurs zero cost to government and obligates us to charge the least cost for power and be subject to ERC (Energy Regulatory Commission) regulation. What the bill does is give us the right to offer the Filipino people an alternative to their current providers – which is unsurprisingly why they must be so alarmed,” Leviste said in a statement sent to The STAR.

Moreover, what SPSBC offers is an alternative to Filipino consumers in getting 24/7 power service, according to Leviste.

“The status quo has failed to address the needs of 20 million Filipinos without 24/7 electricity, and many more who endure the highest power rates in Asia, which is why a Pulse Asia survey indicated that 82 percent of Filipinos favor new options for electric providers and over 30 members of the House committee overwhelmingly approved the bill after extensive deliberations,” he said.

“Yet power companies want to preserve their existing monopolies and deprive Filipinos of non-exclusive alternatives like us,” he added.

SPSBC has put in place mini-grids in various towns in Mindoro, Palawan, Masbate, Cagayan and Aurora, benefitting 200,000 Filipinos without government subsidy.

“We would be glad if others would emulate instead of block these projects, so we can all bring affordable, reliable electricity to every Filipino as fast as possible,” Leviste said.

Contra Epira, Charter

In a separate news conference, Reps. Michael Romero of party-list group 1-Pacman, Lito Atienza of Buhay and Carlos Roman Uybarreta of 1-CARE said the proposed franchise grant to SPSBC would go against the Constitution and the EPIRA.

The HB will allow the corporation “to construct, install, establish, operate and maintain distributable power technologies and mini-grid systems throughout the Philippines to improve access to sustainable energy.”

“This is a super franchise that would transform SPCBC into a monopoly that could go into generation, transmission as well as distribution and other areas of the electric power industry,” Romero said, adding it would reverse the reforms that Congress and the government had initiated under the EPIRA.

“Solar will be the only player in the power industry to do not one or two but all parts of the electric power industry’s value chain. Where Epira unbundled the whole power sector, the Solar Para sa Bayan bill will bundle it into one,” Romero said.

“In fact, HB 8179 grants the right to access any transmission or distribution system without any reciprocal obligation on its part, specifically compliance to existing and relevant laws and rules. It is noteworthy to cite that no franchise obligation, during its franchise term, is imposed upon SPSBC to ensure full electrification for all,” the power industry stakeholders’ joint statement read.

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