High-performing non-profit energy distribution firms like the Isabela I Electric Cooperative, Inc. (ISELCO-I) are confident they will sustain their economic vitality despite the increasing challenges facing the rural electrification sector.
ISELCO-I executives attributed this sanguine outlook to the support they are getting from the National Electrification Administration (NEA), especially given the pro-consumer policies endorsed by Administrator Edgardo Masongsong.
Masongsong has been pushing for the empowerment of electric cooperative (EC) member-consumer-owners (MCOs) through a national movement designed to help President Rodrigo Duterte achieve his “Ambisyon Natin 2040.”
This long-term development agenda of the government envisions a middle-class Philippine society where families can easily afford basic social services including access to safe and reliable electricity.
Central to this mission for the NEA is the continued success of the rural electrification program, which it has been implementing for 48 years and counting, together with the 121 ECs it supervises nationwide.
Speaking at the 41st Annual General Membership Assembly (AGMA) of ISELCO-I, Masongsong underscored the need for electricity consumers in the rural areas to band together in support of their EC against a complicated power industry.
“Dapat naiintindihan ninyo ang industriya, naiintindihan ninyo saan nanggagaling ang kuryente at paano nakakarating ang kuryente sa inyo,” the NEA chief told nearly 10,000 Iselco-I MCOs present at the multi-purpose building of their main office in Alicia, Isabela.
“Kailangan may partnership – nandiyan si gobyerno through NEA, EC at nandiyan kayo (MCOs) – dahil kung hindi ninyo susuportahan ang ating EC, balang araw baka agawin ng mga malalaking negosyo ang serbisyo ng kuryente,” Masongsong added.
Fortunately for ISELCO-I, chances of private distribution utilities (PDUs) taking over its franchise area remain low, according to general manager Virgilio Montano and board president Presley de Jesus.
“Sa amin naman kampante kami because why? Kung maganda ang patakbo mo, maganda ang operation, kahit may gustong sumakop ayaw ng mga consumer. Kung kuntento ang mga consumer, definitely ‘yung mga gustong pumasok (na PDUs) ay mahihirapan,” Montano said.
Thus far, ISELCO-I enjoys a relatively high satifaction rate from its customers. Montano credits this to reduced power cost in their franchise area, which varies from P6.54 to P8.73 as of September, leading to better collection efficiency for the EC.
In July this year, the most recent month for which data from its Institutional Services Department (ISD) are available, ISELCO-I achieved 97.38 percent collection efficiency, higher than the 95 percent standard set by the NEA.
ISELCO-I is one of the three ECs rated AAA by the NEA in Region II with about 207,112 household connections across the municipalities of Alicia, Angadanan, Cabatuan, Cordon, Echague, Jones, Luna, Ramon, Reina Mercedes, San Agustin, San Guillermo, San Isidro, San Mateo and the cities of Santiago and Cauayan in Isabela.
Montano said they plan to connect 6,723 more under the Nationwide Intensification of Household Electrification (NIHE) program of the Department of Energy (DOE). This includes around 1,000 indigent homes in 30 identified missionary areas in the province.
He also believes that ECs are better left at the hands of government through the NEA in the interest of public service. “Once na private company ang papasok, ano ang magiging sitwasyon? May profit sila, who will suffer? Consumers, kasi tataas ‘yung rate,” Montano said.
“Meron bang negosyante na hindi mo babawiin ‘yung capital mo? Unlike ngayon, suportado tayo ng gobyerno, kuntento tayo. So it’s much better that we are under NEA, under the government. Maganda naman ang operation natin,” he added.
Nevertheless, De Jesus said ISELCO-I cannot rest on their laurels despite their present good standing. They have to stay at the top of their game since demand for power keeps swelling in their franchise area particularly during the summer.
“Cauayan City is a fast-growing city. So we have a 5-megawatt (MW) growth every year (in that city alone). By 2020, I think more than 100 MW na (ang energy demand namin), very big, so ‘yon ang pinaghahandaan namin,” De Jesus said.
The ISELCO-I board president also cited delays in the approval of their capital expenditure requirements by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and transmission issues at the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) as among their recurring problems.
To offset these drawbacks, De Jesus said they are doubling down on the construction of additional substations and embedded power generation facilities. They are also willing to work with investors who would like to explore potential renewable energy sources in their province.
“Gusto ko (sana) puro sila embedded so we don’t (have to) rely (too much) on NGCP’s transmission lines. Ma-le-less na ‘yung transmission cost namin at mag-brownout man, meron pa rin kaming ilaw, tuloy-tuloy ang serbisyo namin sa aming MCOs,” he said.
ISELCO-I currently has six substations and two embedded generators, one of these is the Magat Mini-Hydro Electric Power Plant in Villa Beltran, Ramon, which the NEA helped construct during the 1980s.
In the pipeline is another 10 MVA (megavolt ampere) substation with a drive-thru collection office soon to rise in Echague town. The P56-million project has already been approved by the NEA and is expected to be completed in six months.
The ISEOCO-I management is also committed to cut their system losses further into single digits. Right now, the average system loss of the EC according to its ISD is at 11.14 percent as of July this year.
Preparations for future disasters are likewise nonstop for ISELCO-I now that the country is in the middle of its typhoon season. Montano said the ongoing efforts by the government to push for a P750-million calamity fund for ECs are also highly appreciated.
He was referring to Senate Bill No. 1461, or the proposed Electric Cooperatives Emergency and Resiliency Fund Act of Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy.
The bill is now a step closer to becoming a law as the Senate passed it on its third and final reading this week. The proposed measure aims to provide disaster-stricken power coops access to interest-free grants to ensure speedy restoration of their damaged facilities.
“Kami ulit ay nagpapasalamat sa ating administrator kasi sinusulong nila ngayon ‘yung mga pondo para matugunan kaagad kung ano ang kailangan ng ating kooperatiba pagka may calamities na hindi mangungutang sa mga bangko o kung saan-saan…” Montano said.
“Alam naman natin na ang NEA ay maraming coop na tinutulungan. Kung limitado man ang resources, at least meron nang pondo ang gobyerno instantly na pwedeng itulong sa mga areas na may kalamidad. So ‘yon ang iba ngayon sa ating administration,” he added.