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Solar firm wants to end ‘complacency’ among electric co-ops

/ 05:18 AM September 07, 2018

The entry of a private sector firm like Solar Para sa Bayan Corp. should spur competition that would eventually lead to electricity services reaching unserved areas at a faster pace, according to its founder Leandro Leviste.

Leviste, who is also behind large-scale solar farms and a solar panel factory in Batangas, said in a statement the establishment of solar-battery mini-grids—such as those that Solar Para sa Bayan is pursuing—would benefit 200,000 Filipinos in 12 towns across the country.

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“We hope this will not only benefit these towns, but create healthy competition that benefits consumers across the country,” Leviste said.

He was reacting to strong resistance from electric cooperatives, which see Leviste’s ventures as a threat of incursion of their franchise areas.

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According to the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, Leviste’s efforts to secure a national franchise from Congress was against the provisions of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act.

“If the mere specter of competition inspires electric utilities to improve their services, that is an affirmation of the need for healthy competition,” Leviste said. “If the entry of companies like us will end the complacency of incumbent monopolies, then our mission is accomplished.

In an interview, National Electrification Administration (NEA) head Edgardo Masongsong said the goal of universal electrification was still attainable even with the current setup. NEA oversees 121 rural cooperatives nationwide.

“The private sector can go into the cooperatives’ areas as qualified third parties,” Masongsong said, referring to areas that the rural distributors have declared they are unable to serve.

“Then there is the way of private-sector partnership—private firms can go there in partnership with the cooperatives,” Masongsong said.

The NEA administrator said cooperatives were more welcoming of a partnership with private firms, instead of the latter encroaching on their franchise areas.

Even then, Masongsong said it could be better for Solar Para sa Bayan to prioritize areas like Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

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This echoes a statement made earlier this week by the National Association of General Managers of Electric Cooperatives (Nagmec) which challenged the private sector to “prioritize remote, underserved locations first if they were truly sincere about supplying power to the countryside.”

“We accept Nagmec’s challenge, so hope they stop opposing attempts by the private sector to enter these poorly served areas—as we’ve already done in 12 towns,” Leviste said.

“We believe consumers should be given new choices for better service at lower cost, especially if it means zero government subsidies and does not prejudice the nonexclusive right of anyone else to offer even better options to consumers,” Leviste added.

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TAGS: electricity services, Leandro Leviste, Solar Para Sa Bayan Corp.
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