Senate approves 25-year franchise of Solar Para sa Bayan

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola 

The Senate passed on third and final reading the bill granting a 25-year franchise to Solar Para Sa Bayan Corporation (SPSB), a firm owned by Leandro Leviste, son of outgoing Sen. Loren Legarda.

(Solar Para Sa Bayan / MANILA BULLETIN) (Solar Para Sa Bayan / MANILA BULLETIN)

With 16 affirmative and one abstention, members of the Upper Chamber approved on final reading House Bill No. 8179 which seeks to grant the SPSB a franchise "to construct, install, establish, operate, and maintain distributable power technologies and mini-grid systems throughout the Philippines to improve access to sustainable energy."

The measure was sponsored by the Senate Committee on Public Services along with the Senate Committee on Energy.

Once signed into law, the measure will allow the SPSB to supply and distribute power in remote and unviable areas, as well as unserved and underserved parts of the country.

The Senate's version of the bill, however, allows the firm to operate only within the barangays, municipalities and cities of Aurora, Batangas, Bohol, Cagayan, Camiguin, Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental, Isabela, Masbate, Misamis Occidental, Occidental Mindoro, Palawan, and Tawi-Tawi provinces.

The proposed franchise by the Senate also does not grant the SPSB the exclusive rights over these areas.

During the interpellations on the controversial measure last week, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, energy committee chair and co-sponsor of the measure said it still has to go through a competitive selection process along with other private firms before being allowed to operate in these areas.

Senators also ensured that the Department of Energy (DOE) will not encroach on Congress' authority in granting franchises to public utility companies.

The SPSB said it aims to serve "cheap, and reliable 24/7 electricity", through the use of solar-powered micro-grid technology, to communities suffering from the lack of power supply.

It started operating in Paluan, Occidental Mindoro under the DOE's Qualified Third Party program.