OFF-GRID electric cooperatives are plowing ahead with their transition to clean energy after the pandemic demonstrated that renewables are resilient and less likely to be disrupted in a crisis.

The Association of Isolated Electric Cooperatives (AIEC), consisting of 41 rural utilities serving off-grid areas, said renewable sources were proven reliable during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“COVID-19 has proven that renewable energy technologies can be less affected (by) the disruption of the supply chain in the power industry,” AIEC President Rene M. Fajilagutan said in his presentation at one of the sessions in the Asian Development Bank’s virtual Asia Clean Energy Forum Thursday.

Mr. Fajilagutan, who is also the general manager of Romblon Electric Cooperative, Inc., said the pandemic has “compounded” the already-challenging task of all 121 electric cooperatives powering rural communities.

Cooperatives’ collection efficiency fell by more than half during the quarantine, which prevented consumers from paying their bills.

They also halted ongoing projects due to delays in supply deliveries.

Regulators ordered all power utilities to allow customers to break up their unpaid bills during quarantine into four or six payments.

In April, electric cooperatives pledged to shoulder at least a month’s worth of payments due from poor consumers using less than 50 kilowatts as a form of aid.

Seeking to recover from the pandemic, the group said it now favors renewable energy over diesel generators in remote island grids.

“The association is helping the electric cooperatives in capacitating them financially and technically,” Mr. Fajilagutan added.

AIEC said it will resume talks with the government on improving regulations to fully power the countryside. In 2018, President Rodrigo R. Duterte said he wanted full electrification by 2022.

Power utilities are also moving into prepaid metering in more off-grid areas to minimize potential billing disruptions and eliminating the cost of meter-reading. — Adam J. Ang