Lam-alis residents get added dose of energy to keep development going
Maria Ethel Lasib was pleasantly surprised when a four-wheel pickup pulled up right in front of her house in the upland village of Datal Blao, some 30 kilometers from the main highway of the province of Sultan Kudarat. The last time she saw a similar truck in Sitio Lam-alis was in 2004 when the Alliance for Mindanao Off-grid Renewable Energy (AMORE) Program came to their community and developed Macadis creek into a micro-hydro source for electricity. More than 80 households got connected to the 9kW micro-hydro power plant in the off-grid sitio that the Sultan Kudarat Electric Cooperative had found difficult to serve by virtue of its location and economically unviable household population density.
Unfamiliar faces greeted them, but the logo on their shirts looked strikingly familiar ? the perfectly round shape of the sun emblazoned with a yellow and orange border and with multiple rays seemingly dancing and reaching out from the sun?s surface, was the same logo that one can find pinned at the micro-hydro power plant?s powerhouse, on the sitio?s concrete water reservoir built in 2005, and at the elementary school?s IBM Smart Kid?s distance learning equipment that sourced electricity from the hydro power plant.
Micro-hydro energy kick starts community development
Before 2004, the sitio of Lam-alis was just like any typical upland agricultural community. The indigenous B?laan and Christian residents ?living harmoniously alongside each other ?tilled their corn, banana and rice farms, tended to their small orchards, and worked on their rattan handicrafts. All activity would halt by the time the sun set, to continue the following morning when the shroud of darkness enveloping the community is yet again lifted by the rising of the sun.
And then AMORE ? a rural electrification program jointly funded by the United States Agency for International Development and the Philippine Department of Energy together with a slew of private sector partners ? came to the community and brought with them the welcome news that the sitio will soon be electrified by a hydro energy source around 300 meters from where residents lived. The government was then in the middle of an aggressive rural electrification program, and it wanted the entire country?s every nook and cranny up to the remotest village, with access to electricity.
Alongside the power plant?s construction were a series of various trainings that Ethel herself took active part in. Winrock International, the AMORE Program?s implementor, made community organizing and capacity building a core strategy so that every village energized using then less known renewable energy technologies was organized into a local association called the Barangay Renewable Energy and Community Development Association (or BRECDA), and trained, not only on technical subjects, but on basic financial and organizational management and development concepts as well.
The trainings helped members of the Lam-alis Christian-B?laan Renewable Energy Association (LACREA) manage and run efficiently not only the micro-hydro power plant, but also the spring-fed potable water system that was constructed ? also by the AMORE Program ? shortly after the sitio was energized.
Considered the projects? ?police,? Ethel proudly ?reports? that the policies as regards operation and maintenance of both the renewable energy (RE) and water systems agreed upon by the members in 2004 are still in place, and enforced by the officers led by no less than her. As LACREA Treasurer since 2009, she wields ledger and pen in one hand, and shears in the other, with equal ease and comfort. The dreaded shears, she says, are for cutting off connections ? either electricity or water ? to households no longer willing to honor their fiscal responsibilities of paying as low as PHP100.00 per month (USD2.3/month) for electricity and PHP10 each month (USD0.23/month) for water.
The micro-hydro power plant brought electricity to more than 80 households in the sitio in 2004. But what it really did, in Ethel?s view, is that it gave a much needed kick start to their community?s development. When the power plant began operations seven years ago, what was found was electricity that promised to community members ? and succeeded ? to lead the way out of darkness, and out of absolute poverty.
As of March 2011, more than three hundred thousand pesos (USD7,000) is in LACREA?s bank account. Constituting this huge sum are members? membership dues, electricity and water fees payments, and profits from the association?s corn mill, fish pond and lending businesses. Since the advent of electricity in the sitio, the association-run corn mill has progressively served the milling needs of the town?s corn farmers. At PHP1 for every kilo of corn to be milled, LACREA charges considerably less than other millers in the area. Cheap electricity from the micro-hydro plant has afforded them the luxury of offering their services for lower rates, and still manage to turn in a profit of PHP4,000 (USD93) a month on average. Run-off water from the hydro plant was turned into a fish pond that now generates decent income for the association. Encouraged by all these livelihood activities and inspired by the desire to help out neighbours, the association soon started a lending business whose collection of payments ? principal plus 5 percent interest ? coincided with the harvest season after every fourth month.
Extra dose of ?energy?
Such was the business frame of mind of LACREA when the AMORE jeep pulled up? after seven years ? in front of Ethel?s house. And AMORE ? re-named Alliance for Mindanao and Multi-Regional Renewable/Rural Energy Development at the start of the third phase in October 2009 ? could not have come at a better time.
Supporting the government?s bid to energize 90 percent of total households in the country by 2017, the AMORE program was going back to villages it had previously energized in the program?s past two phases to facilitate access to electricity to more households in the village. Within a climate of government-led and private sector-participated promotion of renewable energy technologies, the AMORE program was looking to facilitate household electrification by encouraging and supporting renewable energy business activities in off-grid areas in Mindanao.
When AMORE went back to Lam-alis and re-designed the micro-hydro power plant to incorporate a battery charging station to be able to serve more households in the community, LACREA saw a business opportunity. Out of the association?s funds, it purchased batteries and loaned them to interested households in the village on an affordable lease-to-own scheme. Forty new households in the village now have access to electricity from the micro-hydro power plant.
Indeed, LACREA has gone a long way from a community association organized primarily to sustain renewable energy and water system into an enterprising organization that leads Lam-alis towards economic development. Sound financial management and business principles have allowed LACREA to turn itself from AMORE?s project beneficiary to a genuine partner towards sustainable community development. AMORE, March 2011.