BAGUIO CITY – The Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) expressed its all-out and uncompromising support to the active, aggressive, and proactive intervention of the private sector in energizing the remote, inaccessible, unviable, and underserved communities within the franchise area of the rural electric cooperatives, especially when the concerned cooperative has failed or is incapable of fulfilling its mandate to fully energize its coverage area.
BENECO General Manager Gerardo P. Verzosa underscored it is understood that private sector participation will indeed hasten and accelerate rural electrification without the necessary funding from the national government. BENECO is willing to waive the un-energized portions of its coverage area, mostly located in the hinterlands of Benguet, and to include those energized areas that were energized through subsidy funding but remains to be financially and economically unviable.
However, Verzosa sought clarification from Senator Loren Legarda, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, on when the situation referred to as a micro-grid distribution system, whether or not it means that it is an isolated or standalone system, and if there will be a price cap on the cost of electricity per kilowatt hour that the qualified third party investor will be allowed to charge to the consumers.
Further, the BENECO official also inquired on whether or not the qualified third party investor be allowed to charge a higher electricity rate compared to the rate of the existing electric cooperative in the area that waived portions of its franchise area to the private sector.
He also asked, for transparency purposes, what the components of the rate of the third party investor will be and how it will be computed.
Verzosa raised the question on whether or not the qualified third party investor will be allowed to draw subsidy funding similar to the special power utilities group electric cooperatives.
Earlier, Senators Legarda and Sherwin Gatchalian were reportedly unhappy with the National Electrification Administration (NEA) and electric cooperatives because the government provides the electric cooperatives money to electrify the unenergized areas, and yet they are not able to do so. There were ECs not able to because the Sitio Energization Program (SEP) earlier released by the government through NEA, and ultimately to the ECs, are allegedly not being liquidated and there is a policy of NEA that ECs are not entitled to receive additional SEP funding if ECs have not liquidated it.
The senators stated during previous budget hearings that because of the alleged incompetence and inability of the ECs to account for all the funding received, it is the consumers who suffer because they are denied electric service. There are private entities willing to take on the responsibility of energizing the unserved and underserved sitios and the renewable private companies are willing to invest in the countryside to provide electricity to the consumers at no cost to the government.
Verzosa argued on how a business-for profit entity can recover its money it invested on solar or wind energy if the amount to be sold is very limited, thus, the need for the viability of renewable energy to be established in the remote villages.