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Congress ratifies Leviste’s solar franchise application

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By JOHN CARLO M. CAHINHINAN

The franchise application of Solar Para sa Bayan Corporation (SBPC) now awaits President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature after the Congress ratified its bicameral conference committee report despite opposition from both chairmen of the House and Senate Energy panels.

House Bill No. 8179 seeks to grant SPBC a 25-year renewable energy distribution franchise which would allow the company to operate in various parts of the country.

The measure give authority to SBPC to “construct, install, establish, operate, and maintain distributable power technologies and mini-grid systems throughout the Philippines to improve access to sustainable energy.”

SBPC is a sole proprietorship entity owned by Leandro Leviste, son of outgoing Senate Finance Committee chair Loren Legarda.

Senate Committee of Energy chairman Sherwin Gatchalian registered a negative vote on Leviste’s franchise application, saying that there was “substantive insertion in the bicameral report that will negatively affect the power industry by the franchise” especially the definition of the term “underserved areas.”

Under the bicam report, “underserved areas” refers to locations where electricity services have been interrupted at least 12 times in the 12 months preceding the date of the determination of the areas.

House Energy Committee chair Lord Allan Velasco (Marinduque) earlier also opposed the approval of Leviste’s solar franchise since it was not referred to his panel when it was first filed.

Velasco filed House Resolution No. 2318 last November which urged the Committee on Rules then under former House Majority Floor Leader Rolando “Nonoy” Andaya Jr. to recommit the franchise application of SBPC to both the energy panel and the Committee on Legislative Franchises under Palawan Rep. Franz “Chicoy” Alvarez.

The Marinduque solon stressed that the rules panel bypassed his committee after solely referring the HB 8179 to Alvarez’s committee.

“Despite the clear mandate of the Rules referring to the Committee on Energy jurisdiction on House Bill No. 8179, no referral was ever made to the said committee,” Velasco’s resolution read.

Velasco insisted that there was a need “to refine and fine-tune” Leviste’s franchise application “to resolve the various contentious provisions in the bill that could put at risk the rights of distribution utilities and their franchises.”

Outgoing House Minority Floor Leader Danilo Suarez (Quezon Province) earlier warned that approving the legislative franchise application SBPC may lead to another potential monopoly in the power industry.

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