“We need reforms to the Electric Power Industry Reform (EPIRA) Act of 2001.”
It’s in the middle of a hot summer but heavy rains triggered flash floods and landslides by tropical storm Agaton displaced over 2 million people in the Eastern Visayas and Davao regions of South-Central Philippines. According to the April 18 update from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), this latest extreme weather hit killed 172, damaged 10,400 homes, 309 roadways, and 15 bridges. The estimated damage in infrastructure and agriculture is over P250 million.
This latest climate change bomb has again exposed how millions of Filipinos are so vulnerable to the increasing frequency of weather borne calamities. Scientists have pointed out in many international fora that developing countries like the Philippines will suffer the brunt of consequences of millions of tons in greenhouse gas emissions spewed daily by the industrialized and richest countries dominating the global economic system. An irony is that studies have shown that Philippine total carbon emissions don’t even count relative to these big economies.
This puts us in a dilemma wherein in our urgent need to recover and rebuild from the pandemic crisis and sustain pre-COVID 19 economic trajectories, we must aggressively develop our infrastructure and industries requiring more power and energy to support the expansion of our economic sectors unavoidably emitting more GHG emissions.
So how do we balance our right to build a prosperous nation while honoring our commitments to the historic Paris Agreement and meet the Philippines’ Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to cut carbon emissions by 75 percent in 2030?
A school of thought that I have been advocating is to harness the power of new technologies that have embraced sustainability and aligned with the ongoing global movement to prevent catastrophic global warming. But in the Philippine situation, being at the receiving end of what is becoming a yearly attack of extreme weather, building resiliency to calamitous events should be a top national and local government priority. This will need an all-of-society approach in redesigning disaster response and recovery protocols to seamlessly integrate pro-active readiness of the public and private sector.
A prerequisite to initiating the right disaster resiliency and response systems that are borderless and devoid of bureaucratic turfs is to have a sound policy foundation that encourages openness to fast evolving technology innovations. Overcoming the change resistant and static thinking of existing policies is the first challenge.
Take, for instance, the appeal of environmental advocacy group, Philippine Business for Environmental Stewardship (PBEST) in its recent public statement calling for an amendment of the Electric Power Industry Reform (EPIRA) Act of 2001. Specifically, PBEST proposes to expand access to renewable energy (RE) sources by lowering the 100kW consumption threshold prescribed in the Retail Competition and Open Access (RCOA) of the EPIRA law.
PBEST co-convenor Eng. Felix Vitangcol points out that currently, only electricity end-users consuming at least 100kW for the preceding twelve months are allowed to participate in the program as a contestable market or those electricity end-users who have a choice of supplier of electricity including renewable energy.
“The policy puts a threshold on the number of electricity end-users that can immediately transition to RE. Electricity end-users having low power consumption but having the capacity to transition to RE cannot do so,” he said.
Eng. Vitangcol further points out the Renewable Energy Act of 2008, (Republic Act No. 9513) being too developer centric as majority of the incentives to them and little left for electricity end-users who have the capability to establish RE sets in their own facilities. Incentives should be restructured and expanded to include electricity end-users who want to utilize their own RE infrastructures.
Furthermore, PBEST proposes an amendment to the implementing rules and regulations of the RCOA accelerating the threshold timeline to 10 kW to 99 kW this year instead of waiting for another year to allow more industries to utilize RE. An example that Eng. Vitangcol cited was the RE generator sets provided by Globe which activated its facilities to provide internet connection to affected areas through its power modernization program.
PBEST advocates the building of a robust and sustainable mix of energy supply that can tap into stored battery power from RE as an alternative source for telecommunications and disaster response scenarios when the electricity grid is down. With this in place, disaster response and recovery will definitely be more efficient, and more lives will be saved.
As we will soon elect new leaders to govern another six-year political cycle, let is award this mandate to candidates that understand the interlinked dynamics of the environment, health, economy, and the value of harnessing science and technology as a rich and innovative toolbox for governance where the private sector is an indispensable and capable partner that shares the national interest of sustainable prosperity for the country.