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PCC backs solar franchise but wants competition rules in place

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SOLAR PHILIPPINES

THE Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) said it supports attempts by a solar energy company to seek a legislative franchise to operate all over the country, but only after a regulatory framework is in place to guard against anti-competitive practices.

“In brief, the PCC is of the position that there is a need to establish a regulatory framework for the generation, transmission, distribution of electricity through distributable power technologies and minigrid systems that will ensure competitive neutrality and fair competition in the market,” it said in a position paper submitted to the Senate, which is hearing the bill on the franchise.

“PCC believes that such regulatory framework is a prerequisite to the grant of a franchise such as the one sought by Solar Para Sa Bayan Corp. to avoid potential competition concerns,” it said in its paper.

In an interview, Commissioner Johannes Benjamin R. Bernabe said the PCC raised several points on the franchise application.

“First point, we are supportive of the disruptive innovation in technology that is being pushed by Solar Para Sa Bayan,” he said.

“Second point is, because we know that there are many legal issues and even Constitutional issues being raised, we want to make sure that his initiative will not be blocked by other stakeholders,” he added.

House Bill 8179 seeks to grant Solar Para Sa Bayan a franchise to construct, install, establish, operate and maintain distributable power technologies and minigrid systems throughout the Philippines to improve access to sustainable energy. It is for consideration of the Senate on public services and energy committees.

The bill has raised opposition from some sectors in part because the company’s owner, Leandro L. Leviste, is the son of a sitting legislator, Senator Loren B. Legarda.

If passed in its current form, the franchise grants Mr. Leviste authority to put up solar farms and distribute their power output in areas with current franchises held by electric cooperatives.

Electric cooperatives, solar energy system developers, and even big power distribution utilities had opposed the bill, citing among others, unfair competition.

“That’s why we are trying to push for a framework, a legal framework, which will ensure that it will not be questioned in court in the future, and that’s why we’re trying to help the franchise applicant to realize these issues and be able to have an open mind to addressing these issues in the franchise bill,” Mr. Bernabe said.

“For instance, with regard to a lack of sufficient definition and standards on what constitute unserved and underserved areas, that’s one, with regard to the need for clearly identifying what is the scope of activities that they will offer, and third, we want to see some certain competition disciplines embedded,” he added.

He said: “If it is going to be a franchise holder for an area where there is no other entity and then another entity wants to come in the future, that’s such second entity will have the ability to access whatever is generated from the output of Solar Para Sa Bayan.” — Victor V. Saulon