By Herbert Vego
CONGRESSMAN-ELECT Dr. Ferj Biron (4th Dist., Iloilo) is enthusiastic over the expansion of the franchise of MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) from Iloilo City to 15 towns and one component city of Iloilo province.
One of the principal authors of the franchise bill (HB 10271) is his son, Cong. Braeden John Biron. The others are Mike Gorriceta (2nd Dist) and Julienne “Jamjam” Baronda (Iloilo City).
As intended, the new law awaiting the signature of President Duterte would enable MORE Power to energize households and business establishments in the municipalities of Alimodian, Leganes, Leon, New Lucena, Pavia, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, Zarraga, Anilao, Banate, Barotac Nuevo, Dingle, Duenas, Dumangas, San Enrique and Passi City, which are still exclusively served by the three branches of Iloilo Electric Cooperative (ILECO).
However, it is not meant to expropriate the facilities of ILECO.
“It will liberalize the power industry as intended by the EPIRA law [RA 9136]. It will not kill the cooperative,” Biron told us during a phone interview on our radio program Tribuna sang Banwa on Aksyon Radyo last Sunday.
EPIRA refers to the “Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001,” which is aimed at ordaining reforms in the electric power industry. To quote one of its provisions (Section 2-f), it would “protect the public interest as it is affected by the rates and services of electric utilities and other providers of electric power.”
“The expansion of MORE Power will spur competition, bring down power rates and improve services,” Biron opined, obviously alluding to the forthcoming co-existence of the old and the new distribution utilities. “It is in response to the clamor of the residents for expanded power-distribution services. Now that they have a choice between ILECO and MORE Power, both utilities would strive to cut rates while competing for patronage. More investors would be coming to Iloilo. When that happens, the cooperatives [ILECOs 1, 2 and 3] alone would be unable to provide sufficient energy.“
He predicted that competition would reduce the provincial residents’ present electric bills by at least 30 percent. At present, MORE Power charges an average of around P7.40 per kilowatt-hour, which could increase by 47 centavos next month. The three branches of ILECO, on the other hand, impose variable charges ranging from P10 to P12/kWh.
The returning congressman enthused that with the return of the administrative control of the seaport of Dumangas to the municipal government, it would be transformed into an international seaport requiring huge power requirements that ILECO would not be able to cope with.
This columnist has no doubt that, having already proven its mettle as the exclusive distribution utility in Iloilo City in the past two years, MORE Power would rise above the proverbial “birth pains” when it starts building network in the above-specified towns of the 2nd and 4th districts of Iloilo.
As MORE Power President Roel Z. Castro was telling us, “When we first applied for a franchise in the city, objectors raised the issue of inexperience against us, not knowing that we had already tapped experienced men to join us.”
In fact, when the previous city franchisee, Panay Electric Co. (PECO), faded out, around 60 of its skilled employees were absorbed by MORE Power,
What if instead of competing against all odds, ILECO proposes to go into a joint venture with MORE Power? This way, it would not lose member consumers.
That remains to be seen, since nobody from the ILECOs has so far made the offer.
If I may say my two cents’ worth, the electric co-ops that have been operational since the 1970s have failed to fulfill their mandate of affordable electrification for all. They are not cooperatives in the true sense of the word, since their so-called “member-consumers” are not rewarded with dividends. No wonder they are not under the strict supervision by the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA).
Now for an anecdote from the late Jack Welch, chairman of General Electric between 1981 and 2001, “Buy or bury the competition.”