A RESOLUTION seeking to block a bill granting a franchise to Solar Para sa Bayan Corp. has been filed at the House of Representatives, with the resolution’s backers claiming that the franchise conflicts with the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA).
“The unconstitutional nature of this Bill grants Solar a Master Franchise to operate all throughout the Philippine archipelago,” PACMAN Rep. Michael L. Romero said in a briefing, Thursday.
“This is a blanket authority that would allow it to infringe and encroach on all existing franchises of main transmission grids,” he added.
House Bill 8179 will grant the Solar Para sa Bayan a franchise to construct, install, establish, operate and maintain distributable power technologies and minigrid systems.
According to House Resolution 2182, the franchise violates Section 59 of the EPIRA Law, which provided that “only those which are in remote and unviable villages that the franchise utility is unable to service for any reason shall be opened to other qualified parties.”
The bill, the resolution’s backers said, will also duplicate the functions of the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines.
Solar Para sa Bayan was founded by Solar Philippines President Leandro L. Leviste, who said in a mobile phone message on Friday evening that the company was just meeting communities’ needs.
“First, whoever made these claims must not have read the bill. The text explicitly states it is non-exclusive, gives no incentives, incurs zero cost to government, and obligates us to charge the least cost for power and be subject to ERC regulation. What the bill does is give us the right to offer the Filipino people an alternative to their current providers — which is unsurprisingly why these providers must be so alarmed,” Mr. Leviste said in response to a request for comment.
“Second, the status quo has failed to address the needs of 20 million Filipinos without 24/7 electricity, and many more who endure the highest power rates in Asia; which is why a Pulse Asia survey indicates that 82% of Filipinos favor new options for electric providers; and over 30 members of the House committee overwhelmingly approved the bill after extensive deliberations. Yet power companies want to preserve their existing monopolies and deprive Filipinos of non-exclusive alternatives like us,” he added.
“Lastly, Solar Para Sa Bayan already has minigrids in 12 towns to benefit 200,000 Filipinos, the first time a company has invested in such areas without any government subsidy. We would be glad if others would emulate instead of block these projects, so we can all bring affordable, reliable electricity to every Filipino as fast as possible. The people in Mindoro, Palawan, Masbate, Cagayan, and Aurora, who are receiving 24/7 power for the first time from us, could care less of the opinions of a few people in Manila.”
The resolution was filed by Buhay Rep. Jose L. Atienza and PACMAN Reps. Romero and Enrico A. Pineda among others.
The legislators also noted that the bill was passed after only two committee hearings.
The bill was also opposed by associations of solar power developers, who cited its hasty approval without the necessary consultation.
“We all agreed that we are going to sign a common statement to register our opposition against House Bill 8179… We want to articulate our position and convey why we are against this particular bill,” according to Ma. Theresa C. Capellan, president of the Philippine Solar and Storage Energy Alliance (PSSEA), in a news conference on Thursday in Makati City.
Aside from PSSEA, the other groups that oppose the franchise are the Confederation of Solar Developers of the Philippines, Inc. (CSDP); Renewable Energy Association of the Philippines (REAP); Organization of Socialized and Economic Housing Developers of the Philippines, Inc.; and Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, Inc., she said.
Ms. Capellan noted that such a franchise also disadvantages developers like REAP, a group of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that install solar rooftops.
“It will practically destroy the SMEs in solar,” she said.
Don Mario Y. Dia, president of CSDP, said there is no need for the issuance of the franchise for Solar Para sa Bayan.
“There is no legal necessity to grant the proposed franchise to a specific entity,” he said, pointing out that the solar energy sector is vibrant and competitive. “What is so special about this franchise given to this specific entity?”
In their joint statement, the associations called on Congress to “junk” HB 8179.
“Instead, our policy makers and legislators should craft another bill that promotes fair and healthy competition, fosters reforms and innovations, for qualified third parties (QTPs) in un-served and missionary areas, enabling the continuing expansion of clean energy projects, broader and more efficient services, and lower electricity rates, especially for unserved and underserved areas,” they said.
Republic Act No. 9136 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA) lays down the legal requirements for any entity to participate in the generation and supply sectors, they said.
“All generators and suppliers of electricity in contestable markets do not need any national franchise. The supply rules already in place provide that the prices to be charged by suppliers are not subject to the regulation of the ERC (Energy Regulatory Commission),” they said.
They said EPIRA covers un-served and missionary areas by allowing QTPs to supply and distribute electricity to un-energized communities. — Victor V. Saulon and Charmaine A. Tadalan