Power co-ops seeking to defend turf in off-grid market

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ELECTRIC COOPERATIVES (ECs) are seeking an audience with the President in the face of moves from the private sector to compete in their franchise areas even without them waiving their right to provide services in the off-grid localities.

Their fear of losing their franchise areas to private businesses came after the Department of Energy (DoE) on March 11 issued a statement that it had committed its full support to President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s call for the removal of “barriers to electrification.”

Presley C. de Jesus, president of the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, Inc. (Philreca), said that ECs should not be characterized as ineffective as only 8% of the total 121 ECs are ailing or underperforming.

Mr. De Jesus said it is unfair for private companies to become interested in serving the far-flung areas of the country after the electric cooperatives laid the groundwork, and after the former cash-strapped nonprofit organizations invested in their franchise areas.

He said claims that electric cooperatives are inefficient are misplaced considering only a few of their members are facing difficulties, and mostly those serving areas with security issues such as Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

He said most electric cooperatives have through the years gained financial and technical skills to operate like their counterparts in the private sector.

Mr. De Jesus, who also heads the electric cooperative in Isabela province, said that the entity he serves emerged from “Category C” to a ”Triple A” rating through the assistance of the National Electrification Administration.

He said the Isabela EC serves even the remotest barangay with five households because they are within its franchise area.

Mr. De Jesus, along with heads of various electric cooperative organizations, were in Manila on Friday to air their grievances.

The DoE statement last month followed Mr. Duterte’s meeting with DoE Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi and Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera to discuss missionary electrification in the “unserved” areas of the country.

The DoE said the President made clear that he wanted the “barriers that are blocking the entry of the private sector to provide better options and more choices for communities.”

The department quoted Mr. Duterte as saying that “the hurdles standing in the way of the total electrification of the entire country” had to be removed.

“This has to stop,” the DoE quoted the president as saying.

The DoE said it was instructed along with the ERC to initiate bold executive actions to allow the entry of the private sector so that consumers could have access to adequate and affordable electricity.

Mr. De Jesus and the other heads of electric cooperatives asked whether private companies will be keen to serve ARMM, which remains among the few regions without adequate electricity supply. — Victor V. Saulon