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Senator Win Gatchalian to DOE: Where’s your electrification strategy program?

CANDARAMAN ISLAND, BALABAC, PALAWAN, Philippines – Taking advantage of the sunny weather, locals charge their electronic gadgets on a crude contraption of solar-powered battery and invertor in this remote island some 279 kilometers south of Puerto Princesa, capital city of the province. The government has yet to craft its comprehensive strategy and rollout plan in pursuing the country’s total electrification agenda. Photo by Mark Cayabyab/OS WIN GATCHALIAN

The Senate Committee on Finance Subcommittee E chaired by Senator Win Gatchalian has grilled the Department of Energy (DOE) on the status of electrification of the country as the committee scrutinized the agency’s 2020 budget.

Gatchalian pointed out during the budget hearing that DOE had yet to submit its comprehensive strategy and rollout plan in pursuing the country’s total electrification agenda, despite the agency’s promise to provide them with concrete data during the previous hearings in the 17th Congress on the government’s electrification program in April and August 2018 and another hearing in August 2019.

The lawmaker questioned why the DOE is asking for a ₱500 million budget for the total electrification of the country when in fact the agency has yet to provide its concrete strategy on how it intends to provide reliable electricity service in unserved and underserved areas.

Without a concrete strategy, Gatchalian expressed concern that the budget to be allocated for the DOE’s total electrification program of the country might be used as the agency’s “slush fund.”

“From my point of view, the lump sum fund has already been given out arbitrarily, [yet] we don’t have a strategy to be guided upon. That’s why I was asking you to submit the department’s total electrification program plan,” Gatchalian pointed out.

“This is very elementary information that we need in order to achieve our goal of 100% electrification. Data lang naman po yung hinihingi namin,” he added. “Wala pa nga ho tayo sa pondo. Iyong pondo, mas mabigat ho ‘yan kasi hahanap pa tayo. What we need is a strategy, a rollout plan, so we can be guided.”

Data from the National Electrification Authority shows that there are currently 1,515,651 unserved households that are still not connected to the power grid, equivalent to 11% of households in the entire country. The majority of this number are found in Mindanao (1,075,938), while Luzon and the Visayas share the remaining half (187,443 and 252,270, respectively.)

During the hearing, DOE Secretary Alfonso Cusi explained that the ₱500 million that the department was asking was for outside projects being implemented by electric cooperatives, including in remote areas and island provinces.

Cusi said they have already required all cooperatives to submit their masterplan on energizing their respective franchise areas and that they are now in the process of collating all the data. However, Cusi claimed that the electric cooperatives have yet to submit their report to the department.

“What we are doing now, Mr. Chairman is, we are collating the masterplan that is made by the respective cooperatives. We are also rating now the cooperatives on how they are serving their franchise area,” he said. “The role of all cooperatives in energizing the entire country is very crucial because they have franchise in that area so we are requiring them to deliver the services that is required, Mr. Chair.”

For his part, Gatchalian contends that the DOE has all the power to require electric coops to submit the required documents on a per household basis to clearly identify where the problematic areas are. He pointed out that the rollout plan remains to be the “missing link” in terms of reaching the households that have yet to be electrified.

“It is very difficult to allocate a big amount without a strategy. There are areas that do not have any electricity and the coops need to know how they will be able to reach those areas. A strategy and rollout plan are therefore important,” Gatchalian said.