By Mario Casayuran
Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian has vowed to prioritize the passage of a bill in the 18th Congress that would spur microgrid development in unserved and underserved areas nationwide to help the government achieve its goal of 100 percent household electrification level by 2022.
Senate Bill 175, known as the Microgrid Systems Act, was one of the 10 priority bills that Gatchalian filed early this month as part of his advocacy to increase the spending power of consumers by lowering electricity rates.
Gatchalian, chairman of Senate energy committee in the 17th Congress, explained that the Microgrid Systems Act aims to provide reliable electric services to every household in the country and accelerate total electrification in areas with no electricity access, no distribution system lines, no home power systems, or no connection to any microgrid.
“The government has stated that total electrification in unserved areas cannot be done by traditional grid extension alone and that non-traditional means – such as microgrid systems – are needed. The problem of energy access is also a concern even in ‘electrified’ areas with limited electricity service, or what we call underserved areas,” he said.
‘’The bill would also level the playing field for all system providers,’’ he added.
“The government has tapped the private sector as partner in delivering electricity and improving the quality service in unserved and underserved areas. However, there are significant barriers to entry because of tedious bureaucratic processes, lack of information on prospective areas for electrification, and difficulties obtaining waivers from incumbent utility franchise holders,” he explained.
Gatchalian said he believed that his measure, when enacted into law, would address the acceleration of total electrification and the provision of reliable electricity service in unserved and underserved areas, as it paves the way for the installation of microgrid systems by accredited Microgrid Service Providers (MSPs).
The bill also creates a streamlined process for MSPs with clear timelines and stiff sanctions for bureaucratic red tape and delay. It also removes the requirement of obtaining waivers from incumbent franchised utilities for MSPs to provide electricity in unserved and underserved areas.
Gatchalian said generation companies, distribution utilities, retail electricity suppliers, or their respective subsidiaries or affiliates may engage in the business of MSPs in unserved and underserved areas, provided that a separate account is maintained for such business undertaking.
Citing data from the Department of Energy (DOE), Gatchalian pointed out that as of 2018, an alarming number of 2,779,530 households, or 11.7 percent of the total number of households nationwide, still have no access to electricity.
He also noted that at least 45 percent or 83 of the 171 areas serviced by the National Power Corporation (Napocor)- Small Power Utilities Group received only four to eight hours of electricity service in 2018 while 34 or 19.9 percent of areas received only nine to 16 hour of electricity service.
“If we want to achieve 100-percent household electrification by 2022, we need to look for other technologies. Let’s improve the process of electrification,” he said.