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SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - November 17, 2018 - 12:00am

In my childhood, I never bought into the typical reading series of the generations before me: Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven, the Hardy Boys’ Adventures, Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason nor any of the classic books that our folks, Manong Ernie and Manay Ichu made sure to fill our shelves with. It was the era long before the internet. Yet I was a voracious reader. I read what was not in my library. My favorites were the more modern authors Jacob “the King” Kurtzberg and Stanley “the Man” Lieber.

Working in collaboration, these two gentlemen created stories and characters that inspired and enthralled me in a way that none in literature could manage. When my turn came to open my son’s eyes to the lightning that could be bottled in reading: I made sure that he would consider the more cultivated choices in J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis & Co. My boy, however, couldn’t help but to also gravitate toward the works of Kurtzberg and Lieber. I obliged him. These shared experiences were central threads in weaving the fabric that binds fathers and sons.

Kurtzberg passed on back in 1994. Lieber died just this Monday. In life, they were better known as the writers, editors, illustrators of the Marvel Comics Universe. Jacob Kurtzberg was Jack “the King” Kirby and Stan Lieber was Stan “the Man” Lee. These two geniuses created the idols that billions worshipped and identified with through the generations. We could not share their superpowers but we endured the same personal issues. And we rooted for them as they mirrored the struggle of good triumphing over evil. We thank them for the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Spiderman, the X-men, Black Panther and the rest of the flawed heroes and scheming villains (always with redeeming qualities) so crucial to our formation.

The world mourned the passing of Stan Lee this past week. His body of work lives on, immortalized on film in the blockbuster movie adaptations that have ruled the box-office. Many will miss his quirky cameos that was mainstay of every Marvel Superhero movie.

A final cameo. If you miss him that much, then hop on over to the House of Representatives which seems to be paying homage to the Man. Our congressmen are attempting to approve a Super Franchise, faster than a speeding bullet.

The applicant, Solar Para Sa Bayan (SPSB), harnesses the might of the sun. House Bill 8179 will vest it with the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound by piggybacking on the primary, secondary lines, transmission, distribution and substation facilities of existing cooperatives and electric utilities, without remuneration. Its power will be limitless: no limits to the capacity they will generate, no limits to the areas they will enter, no limits to the customers they will serve. The super franchise also makes SPSB invincible from the competitive selection process of the Department of Energy and the regulatory rate making process of the Energy Regulatory Commission. It is also immune from any franchise obligation to ensure full electrification of its franchise area, which is the entire country.

All this and more is set to be awarded to SPSB for its promises to lower power rates; energize unserved, underserved, un-energized areas; utilize clean renewable energy with the aid of new technology called “Mini-grids”; all without any need of government subsidy. 

Alternate reality. Does SPSB actually have the capacity to mount such a project? Surprisingly, the Congressional committees involved merely required position papers of stakeholders rather than allow full scrutiny. Our neighbor, Jarius Bondoc deftly captured SPSB’s baffling journey to plenary in his excellent September 17 column: Electricity industry uproar: mini-outfit, mega franchise.

HB 8179 may present itself as the cure all – a de facto “emergency” legislation given the special treatment its provisions confer on the applicant. But the bill needs to justify the urgency of the return to monopolistic behavior in contravention of the avowed State policy of deregulation expressed in the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).  

The bill is also out of touch with the reality on the ground. The virtual expropriation of the facilities of the cooperatives and distribution utilities without compensation threatens the stability of the lines and equipment (voltages and frequencies may be affected due to incongruent technical specifications that their solar/Renewable Energy (RE) generation facilities use).

Heat strokes. Solar irradiation abounds in the Philippines but it is not necessarily the cheapest source of power. The required facilities to run solar plants like ancillary generators and batteries can drive the true cost of delivered power as mentioned in numerous RE publications.

Furthermore, the DOE, through the National Power Corp., has a Special Power Utilities Group (SPUG) that handles Missionary Electrification – to specifically energize the off-grid areas with no access to electricity. Surprisingly, there is no mention of SPUG and missionary electrification in the bill.

The proponent, veteran Bohol Representative Arthur Yap, sought to allay fears. At plenary debates this week, he clarified that it is true that the bill would allow SPSB to enter other franchise areas. But this would be if such areas are abandoned or if the area is underserved or unserved. Ok …

Over exposure. Solar power and other RE resources are a blessing. Surely, the country can use more of them. But there is no call to sacrifice foundation principles of fair competition, transparency and a level playing field. The last time we tried shortcuts in the name of affordable and reliable electricity, we ended up electrocuting ourselves. 

It is best to develop this method of “micro-grids” in specific localities as it should be done rationally. And, if fears are to be truly allayed, let us subject these proponents to exhaustive scrutiny – at least by devoting a full committee hearing, to check if they can really complete and commission those projects. SPSB should welcome this. Sunlight is the best disinfectant – remember?

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