Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Leonora Andaleon could not believe that she would ever see the day when electricity would reach her tiny village. At 72 years old, the coconut farmer lives alone in her small house perched in the far-flung farmlands of Magallanes, Cavite where the only light source in the evening is kerosene gas lamps.
“Awa ng diyos, narating din kami ng ilaw … May liwanag na ang bahay ko, parang sumaya ang bahay dahil mag-isa lang kasi ako,” she said.
Andaleon lives in Sitio Palid, a village of 15 households where the main source of income is agriculture. Sitio Palid, due to its remoteness and the low income of its residents, is not economically attractive to private power distribution companies.
“These places are not high on the priority list of electrification projects because it’s very far and there are only a few households [in the village]. But if we want energy access for all, they should still be given the same services,” said Riedo Panaligan, executive director of the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST), an organization that assists government units and establishments to promote renewable energy programs.
CREST, along with a private donor, installed solar panels on each of the households in Sitio Palid last June.
“Ang laki raw ng gastos para magtayo ng isang poste ng kuryente kaya hindi raw po kayang pasukin ng korporasyon ang aming Sitio. Malayo raw po ang daraanan ng mga kable na walang kabahayan,” Danilo Ilaw, chief of the barangay watchmen, said. Many of his neighbors, he said, have migrated to nearby towns that have electricity.
In a report released by the Department of Energy (DOE) last year, there are at least 2.1 million households in the country that are yet to be reached by electricity.
Many of these households are isolated and hard to reach. Under the Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA), the National Power Corporation, a privatized government-owned corporation, is mandated to carry out missionary electrification — a process of building small power plants to connect off-grid houses to electricity.
In April, DOE secretary Alfredo Cusi announced that government is aiming for 100 percent electrification by 2019, three years ahead of its original target, by easing the entry of private corporations into the market.
“We need to fast-track it … The wisdom of the President is using emerging technologies targeting far-flung barangays which have had no power. The DOE is fully committed in pursuing his directive,” Cusi said in a meeting with the Energy Regulatory Commission.
With the exception of one hydropower plant in Catanduanes, all of its 274 power plants run on diesel, according to the NPC’s Small Utilities Power Group (SPUG).
While the SPUG is currently testing a hybrid power plant of solar power and diesel in a village in southern Leyte, it remains to be seen if the government is intent on exploring the renewable energy potential of the country — particularly solar power.
According to energy democracy expert Tadzio Mueller, renewable energy projects for marginalized communities, such as that of Sitio Palid’s, give the community full control of the production and utilization of electricity.
“Renewable energy enables things like localization and small-scale production … because electricity isn’t just technical, it’s about society and who has that power,” said Mueller, who is from the Berlin-based institution, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.
When a community is not beholden to a corporation for its electricity needs, they can be empowered and autonomous, Mueller added.
For Geronima Vidallo, another resident of Sitio Palid, looking after her three-year-old daughter Grace Anne, who has hydrocephalus, has become easier. She no longer fears that her house might catch fire if her other children accidentally knock over their gas lamp.
She has also been able to save ₱750 from buying kerosene for their gas lamps. The savings, she said, goes to the purchase of medicine for Grace Anne.
“Malaking tulong po talaga. Nababantayan ko siya nang mas maigi sa gabi lalo kapag may sakit siya. At ayaw po kasi niyang matulog sa dilim,” Vidallo said.