By Herbert Vego
GONE are the days when residents of Bacolod and several other cities and towns of Negros Occidental would worry about complete loss of electricity. A savior is coming in the form of a joint venture between Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) and Primelectric Holdings (sister company of MORE Power).
As reported in this paper, the Committee on Legislative Franchises of the House of Representatives had approved in principle House Bill 9310 granting franchise to the resultant Negros Electric and Power Corp (NEPC) as distribution utility for the areas served by Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) – namely the cities of Bacolod, Bago, Talisay, Silay and the municipalities of Murcia and Salvador Benedicto.
The House Committee on Energy has endorsed the grant of a congressional franchise to NEPC.
We would not be surprised if NEPC gets its 25-year franchise by yearend, since no less than Negrense congressmen Juliet Marie Ferrer, Stephen Paduano, Francisco “Kiko” Benitez, and Greg Gasataya have pushed hard for it.
But the bigger credit goes to the Ceneco customers themselves for approving the joint venture agreement (JVA) in a plebiscite, knowing it is the only way to keep the aforementioned localities empowered.
Under that JVA, NEPC would rescue the “bleeding” electric distribution utility which could no longer cope with its accrued financial obligations to power suppliers and contractors.
Primelectric would stabilize the joint venture by parlaying 70% of the value of CENECO assets.
It is an undisputed fact that the 45-year-old Ceneco, which has a customer base of 210,000 households and establishments, is losing ₱15 to ₱20 million a month due to mismanagement and system’s loss and pilferage.
What makes NEPC’s intervention urgent is the necessity to pull the distribution utility out of financial quicksand. Ceneco has accumulated debts of around ₱600 million to the National Electrification Administration (NEA) and private banks.
The cooperative had tried to apply for infusion of additional capital expenditure but this was disapproved by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC). With no more capital expenditures to lean on, it is no longer capable of rebuilding or rehabilitating its obsolete substations and facilities. No wonder, it has become “normal” for unscheduled power outages to occur. Its survival now hinges on the joint venture with Primelectric under the NEPC umbrella.
Primelectric, incidentally, is mainly owned by billionaire Enrique Razon, who is committed to build a solar farm in Luzon provinces that can generate between 2,500 megawatts to 3,500 megawatts of electricity in partnership with Leandro Leviste of Solar Philippines
Thus, to quote Bacolod City Mayor Alfredo B. Benitez, “We are looking at converting Bacolod into a city that has fully renewable energy.”
Here comes Roel Castro as concurrent NEPC president and chief executive officer, whose leadership has passed the test of time. Castro is well known for stewarding the exponential growth of MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) in Iloilo City from a customer base of 62,000 to more than 92,000 within three years.
MORE Power’s franchise has been expanded to also serve Passi City and 15 towns of Iloilo province upon receipt of certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC). The competition with Iloilo Electric Cooperative (ILECO) is expected to keep power rates to the lowest possible level.
THIS corner deeply mourns the passing of Jograd dela Torre, 61, the other day at Ospital ng Maynila. He was one of my talents when I was handling stage shows in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces in the late 1970s until 1981. He was the subject of my column dated May 17, 2023.
Today’s generation must have forgotten Jograd. But his songs still resonate, especially “Kawatan,” a spoof on corrupt government officials who enrich themselves at the expense of the poor.
The song begins:
“Kay sarap kumain ng rice, pero can’t afford the price. Karne’t gulay at fish, gasolina, dilis, mga presyo’y kakainis, hay! Bakit ba tayo’y naghihirap, habang ang iba-y nagpapasarap?”
Jograd used to co-host Nora Aunor’s “Superstar” TV show from the late 1980s to the early 1990s.
While in Manila last April 28, I grabbed the opportunity to see him in the only bistro where he was still singing once a week, the Cowboy Grill.
He confessed to be suffering from cirrhosis of the liver. But he brushed that aside to recall his glorious past, including the first time I booked him for his first big show at the defunct Wells Fargo Supper Club on Roxas Boulevard in November 1980.
So long, Jograd.