THE Senate Committee on Energy is proposing to add provisions to current microgrid legislation requiring investors in these independent energy systems to choose more renewables to supply their customers.

“I’m inclined to give some preference to RE (renewable energy),” Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, the panel’s chairman, told reporters on Tuesday after a public hearing on Senate Bill No. 175, wich if passed will be called “An Act Promoting the Use of Microgrid Systems for the Total Electrification of Unserved and Underserved Areas.”

He said he agrees with the position of the National Renewable Energy Board (NREB), which advises the government on clean energy issues, that RE should be given preference.

“Part of encouraging microgid [systems] is for them to migrate to renewable forms,” he said.

Mr. Gatchalian said some provisions of the microgrid systems bill should refer back to the Renewable Energy Act of 2008, which calls for duty-free importation of RE equipment, among others. He said for instance, a microgrid operator that supplies 80% of its customers from solar power or energy storage should enjoy some of the incentives in the RE law.

He said other contentious issues should also be resolved, including how an “underserved” area should be defined. He also said a definition of a microgrid system should also be included.

At present, any small-scale electricity grid that can be operated independently from the country’s interconnected network of power transmission facilities can be defined as a microgrid.

“Under the bill, the DoE (Department of Energy) can declare Palawan or Puerto Princesa as an underserved area so an MSP (microgrid service provider) can come in,” he said.

Areas in the Philippines that have yet to reach full electrification are under existing franchise holders who have to waive their rights before a service provider can come in.

“Unserved [area] is easy [to define — walang kuryente (no electricity). Underserved is very challenging,” Mr. Gatchalian said, citing as example Palawan, which is off-grid and experiencing less than 24/7 power. Yet Palawan has malls and resorts that benefit from subsidized power rates because it is an island that is not connected to the Luzon grid.

“Microgrid is supposed to be small, pero wala siyang (but it doesn’t have an) international definition,” he said, adding that legal issues such as the grant of a franchise should be studied to avoid possible court challenges.

“So now were reconciling whether to put a strict definition of microgrid for capacity limit, maybe below 1 megawatt,” he said.

He said the energy committee is considering a provision outlining a “dynamic” cap on capacity that the DoE can change based on advances in technology and the need for grid stability.

He said the next step for the bill is the submission of studies from the DoE and the Energy Regulatory Commission.

“Then we will move into a technical working group to include all of the recommendations, and we would also like to interact with some of the [microgrid] proponents,” he said. — Victor V. Saulon