The Association of Isolated Electric Cooperatives has released a statement opposing the Solar Para sa Bayan (SPSB) franchise as it is deemed illegal and unconstitutional for a number of reasons.
In an open letter addressed to the president, the group cited a number of insertions in the franchise bill that they deemed problematic including the inclusion of provinces that are already being served by existing distribution utilities (DU), saying that its inclusion in the bill is illegal as certain power supply agreements are being violated.
The association also claimed that the island mode operation should not be granted to SPSB without any public bidding as it will be imposing fees on customers.
“One of the basic principles on which this government was founded is that of the equality of right which is embodied in Section 1, Article Ill of the 1987 Constitution. The equal protection of the laws is embraced in the concept of due process, as every unfair discrimination offends the requirements of justice and fair play,” the statement said.
The group also noted that the franchise bill’s vague inclusion of rules on the frequency of interruptions has no technical basis. According to the legislation, SPSB can operate in any areas in the country that have a frequency of interruptions of twelve times a year that can be attributed to the performance of the existing DUs.
“The interruption of service in an existing service areas of the DUs can be attributed to several factors such as; power plant performance, calamities and even quality of supply and many other factors that are beyond the control of the DUs,” as stated in the opposition letter.
“It appears that this is a mere subterfuge to make it appear that the source of technology being solar and therefore free like the sunlight. This is not simply true because the super franchise authorizes it to use hybrid technology,” it said.
This means that the power supply may consist of one percent solar while the other 99 percent can be diesel, burdening the consumers with paying higher prices than necessary.
“We call on all members of the Senate and House of Representatives to reject this super franchise and uphold public transparency. In all grants of franchise or privilege, the government, whether executive or legislative must maintain fairness, equality and public accountability,” the letter said.
An infrastructure-oriented thinktank also joined the call for President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider the objections of different sectors before signing into law SPSB’s solar franchise.
“The objection of Senate energy committee chair Senator Sherwin Gatchalian to the vagueness of inserted provisions during the bicameral deliberations should give the President pause before signing the SPSB bill, particularly the definition of underserved areas,” said Terry Ridon, Infrawatch PH convenor and former member of the House energy committee.
“With the passage of the SPSB franchise, the main concern is the concentration of power generation and distribution in a single entity. Ensuring competitive power rates is therefore a legitimate public concern in these areas,” he added.