Congress okays ‘Solar Para sa Bayan’ franchise

By Myrna M. Velasco – June 8, 2019, 10:00 PM
from Manila Bulletin

The bicameral body has approved the final version of House Bill 8179 or the franchise for Solar Para sa Bayan Corporation – but with limited scope on the jurisdictions it could serve, primarily the “unviable or unserved” as well as the “underserved” areas.

Following the passage of the measure, company-founder Leandro Leviste offered a “hand of peace” and reconciliation to all the parties that had strongly opposed his move to seek a franchise on his target to extend electricity service and expand electrification ventures in jurisdictions that struggled having energy access through the years.

“We wish to extend an olive branch to those who once opposed this bill, for us to help achieve the Department of Energy’s goal of bringing 24/7 power to every Filipino,” Leviste said; while also rallying all competing parties that “it is time for us to join forces and work together for the common good.”

Solar Para sa Bayan acknowledged that the final version of the measure had been significantly downscaled – that the scope only covers “remote and unviable, unserved or underserved areas and only in selected provinces of the Philippines.”

The technology deployment has also been constrained to just “renewable energy installations”; and the provision of electricity to the specified areas is subject to the rigors of regulation of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and the policy-framing of the Department of Energy.

The franchisee-company has likewise been obligated “to provide accessible and reliable service and local employment” and failing to meet such will subject it to financial penalties.

Solar Para sa Bayan has also been the first company – with a franchise, that had been explicitly directed “not be entitled to any government subsidy.”

The business paradigm on its provision of energy service is anchored on “micro-grid system” and these domains are often the far-flung areas in the provinces or island-grids that have not been provided with sufficient and reliable power service – or have not had access to electricity since their existence.

In her support to the Solar Para sa Bayan franchise, Senate Public Services Committee Chairperson Grace Poe noted that “this is a social justice legislation to electrify the countryside, to allow the operations of solar technology and microgrids in remote, unviable, unserved and underserved areas.”

Meanwhile, for Senate Committee on Energy Chairman Sherwin T. Gatchalian, he had manifested two key objections to the measure – which was both acknowledged by Poe and franchise-grantee Solar Para sa Bayan.

Gatchalian opposed the lack of parameters on the “power interruptions” incorporated in “underserved area” as stipulated in the measure – with him qualifying that such events may not only be due to the culpabilities of a servicing power utility, but it could also be the power plant operations; or at times, these could be triggered by force majeure conditions such as technical glitches in the system or due to the strike of natural calamities. The other facet he opposed is the possible infringement of the franchise into the regulatory powers of the ERC as to the scale of interruptions before an area can be classified as “underserved.”

“My objection is on the substantive insertion in the bicameral report that will negatively affect the power industry,” the lawmaker said, adding that “underserved” would now refer “to areas where electricity services have been interrupted at least 12 times in the 12 months preceding the date of the determination;” while the ERC set at least 20 interruptions benchmark for such.