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Electric cooperatives slam Energy chief for backing Solar Para sa Bayan Corp.

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Alfonso G. Cusi

ELECTRIC cooperatives have responded to the Energy secretary’s support for Solar Para sa Bayan Corp.’s bid for a nationwide microgrid franchise, in a bluntly worded statement that calls him out for being allegedly biased against them.

The cooperatives, through various industry organizations, said they had never seen an Energy secretary “who’s so subservient and biased to private business interests.”

Their statement came after Department of Energy (DoE) Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi last week described Solar Para sa Bayan, a company led by Leandro L. Leviste, as a “positive disruptive” development that could result in a change in the way electric cooperatives are serving unenergized areas in the countryside.

Mr. Leviste, the son of Senator Loren B. Legarda, stands to benefit from House Bill 8179, which seeks to grant a non-exclusive legislative franchise to Solar Para sa Bayan. The measure is opposed by solar energy developers and electric cooperatives. A number of House representatives have also called for further review and deliberation on the bill.

“Mr. Cusi is mouthing the untested and false claims of an entity that has no proven track record in the power industry but is in the process of acquiring a legislative franchise because of political backers,” the cooperatives said.

The statement was attributed to leaders of National Association of General Managers of Electric Cooperatives and Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, two of the largest groups of electric cooperatives in the country.

They criticized Mr. Cusi for allegedly acting as the spokesperson of Mr. Leviste “while denigrating the decades-long contributions of electric cooperatives to rural development, as evidenced by the emergence of industries and employment opportunities contributing to the robust growth in the countryside.”

Separately, Philippine Independent Power Producers Association, Inc. (PIPPA) said in a statement that while electrification is a valid concern, granting a nationwide franchise to any entity is not the proper means to achieving this purpose.

While it supports the common goal of nationwide electrification and affordable electricity, PIPPA said Republic Act 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA) “provides that generation of electric power does not require a national franchise and should be competitive and open.”

“As such, [Solar Para sa Bayan’s] means of entry into the generation sector is already provided for by the EPIRA. In fact, electrification to unserved and underserved areas are already being done without a franchise,” it said, citing as example the company itself and other power generation companies that have been coordinating with the DoE for such purpose.

“PIPPA believes that the same may be achieved, without any undue favor or harm, simply through the proper implementation of the EPIRA. The unbridled authority to operate at any capacity, of whatever kind, and in any part of the Philippines, is far too great a privilege for any entity,” the association said. — Victor V. Saulon