Meralco not giving up ‘unelectrified sites’ in its franchise area

By Myrna M. Velasco – June 20, 2018, 10:00 PM
from Manila Bulletin

Amid the government’s “takeover warning” at the unelectrified domains of distribution utilities (DUs), power utility giant Manila Electric Company (Meralco) indicated that it will not give up portions of its franchise area that have yet to be energized.

When asked by the media if the utility firm will yield to the government’s wish, Meralco President Oscar S. Reyes forthrightly stated that it’s a “no” for them, with him emphasizing that “we will do what we can” in electrifying these areas.

The company chief executive qualified that Meralco’s service area is now 97.8 percent complete on household connections, and it is only the “hard to reach and unviable areas” that have not been extended electricity service at this time.

The Department of Energy (DOE), in particular has flagged Meralco on electrification concerns of at least two sites within its franchise area – Isla Verde in Batangas and Cagbalete in Quezon province.  On this, the utility firm already responded positively to the government on advancing the electrification of these jurisdictions.

For all the other DUs and electric cooperatives that are seen responsible in denying electricity access to roughly 2.8 million Filipino households, the DOE indicated that it is seeking Malacañang’s issuance of an Executive Order (EO) so it can break barriers and ramp up the initiatives on extending energy service to these communities.

As an initial step, Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi noted that he already issued a Department Order that shall underpin electrification drive for many of the country’s marginalized and far-flung domains.

“I issued an Order to break barriers in energizing the whole country, so from 2022, our target to total household electrification, I lowered it to year 2020,” he stressed.

But the department acknowledged that such may not be enough, hence, it will still be needing President Rodrigo Duterte’s written imprimatur on the country’s household energization program.

The energy chief added that the EO shall be a firmer measure needed for the program; and this he is eyeing to be complemented by having ‘prospective project champions’ at local government levels – such as the mayor and other local officials.

The energy department submitted last April “a proposed Executive Order that will identify the different barriers,” and such Presidential mandate must also pave the way for the “creation of a task force and technical working groups to identify the possible solution to these concerns.”

Nevertheless, this is a policy proposal that has been igniting “uneasiness” among electric cooperatives, with them stressing that this is tantamount to encroachment and will likely push them aside “if pure corporate interests are allowed to dictate electrification programs in un-served and under-served areas in the country.”

According to Sergio Dagooc, president of the National Association of General Managers of Electric Cooperatives (NAGMEC), “ECs currently enjoy exclusive electricity franchise privileges… if the plan to allow the private sector to engage in rural electrification pushes through, it should be under a set-up where all parties, including end-users, shall benefit.”

He added “if there is no chance that our policymakers would reconsider, and the plan cannot be avoided anymore, we call for the protection from over-reach and franchise area encroachment,”

The proposal of the electric cooperatives shall be for these corporate entities then to partner with them if they want to provide electricity service in their franchise areas.