By Mario Casayuran
The Senate energy committee pressed on Monday the National Electrification Administration (NEA) and the private sector to accelerate the establishment of power generating plants in the country’s rural areas.
Aside from putting up electric grids in sitios, the smallest political unit in the country, the NEA should also hasten the putting up of power grids in the barangays (barrios) to meet the 2022 deadline set by President Duterte for the total electrification of the countryside, said Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, committee chairman.
But NEA‘s proposed 2019 P1.6-billion budget for its rural electrification program has been reduced to less than P1 billion because of the controversial cash-based budget system adopted by the President Duterte’s economic and financial managers.
Like the Public Private Partnership (PPP) program of the Aquino administration, private firms could link up with NEA for the establishment of micro-grids in many islands and remote areas in the archipelago, Gatchalian said.
Since the electric wires could not reach these remote areas, the private sector should construct these power plants at no cost to the government, he explained. ‘’It is like PPP in the electric distribution sector,’’ he added.
“It’s a special arrangement with the DOE (Department of Energy). This is called qualified third party that would be allowed to put up power lines in the islands. It’s already in place under the EPIRA (Electric Power Industry Reform Act) . What is bugging the arrangement is misunderstanding with the electric cooperatives,’’ he added.
Gatchalian said he does not agree with the NEA budget cut by government to less than P1 billion.
He said the electrification program is badly needed because there are still 2.7-million households that do not have power lines ‘’of which 1.5 million of the 2.7 million are in Mindanao, the home island of the President.’’
Gatchalian estimated that some 300 sitios would suffer because of the budget cut.
It is important that the momentum of the electrification program be maintained since electric power is important in fighting poverty, he said.
Every year, the NEA has been targeting sitios for electrification as there are still 19,000 sitios without electric power ‘’which is their target for the next five years,’’ he added.
The energy committee conducted yesterday a public hearing on energy-related resolutions that seek to determine the status of electrification in the country and to assess and possibly revise the National Electrification Strategy ‘’with the end in view of achieving total electrification for the welfare of the Filipino people and the development of the nation. ‘’