Rey Cordenillo works at the Capiz Electric Cooperative, in charge of the Membership Services and Development division. Rey wanted to make it easier for applicants to get their homes energized. He had a number of process improvement ideas to achieve this goal. As he explored these ideas, he decided the most significant factor was the requirement that an applicant needs to become a “member” first before they can avail of electric services. Because membership takes time and requires a lengthy procedural process, Rey wanted to treat applicants as “consumers” before their membership applications are approved.
Rey used to work for a local government unit, where he mastered process flow documentation and service improvement (among other competencies). When he moved to the Capiz Electric Cooperative, he was assigned to the power cooperative’s main office in Roxas City. His work revolves around membership, customer satisfaction, customer service, and consumer protection.
Rey coordinates with the various satellite area offices around the province in processing the cooperative’s membership requirements, while also working on revising current policy procedures to make it easier for consumers to be members and avail of electric power. In less than a year, Rey has seen the evolution of his reform, benefiting hundreds of marginalized consumers through the support of his office’s Board of Directors.
The development challenge: Delays in connecting to the Power Grid
At the beginning of the Mentoring program, I had many reform ideas. These included: (a) simplifying and then communicating the process; (b) providing electrical installation services in cooperation with local governments to decrease the cost; (c) establishing a uniform Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) rate across all local governments; and (d) deferring the requirement for membership after consumership.
In the end, I wanted to focus on the problem of why it takes a long time for households in Capiz to connect to our electric grid. On average, it would take 3 weeks from the time an applicant asks for an application form until the time their home is energized. There are many reasons for this. Since some consumers are unfamiliar with the process, they resort to using middlemen to facilitate their applications. So apart from the usual fees that we charge, they have to pay extra for the middlemen. This drives the costs up. Other obstructions include insufficient communication of the process (hence, the emergence of middlemen), varying rates across Municipalities and Cities for certifications/licenses, Bureau of Fire inspections, and the cooperative membership requirement.
But the most significant idea that I’ve discerned is to differentiate between “member” and “consumer.”
You see, an Electric Cooperative is not the same as an electric power distribution utility. An electric cooperative requires membership for a household to avail of electricity. When you become a member of the coop, you have a vested right to become an owner too. This is called Member-Consumer-Owner (MCOs), which is common parlance used by electric cooperatives all over the country.
But for new applicants, this takes some time since membership has to be approved by the Board of Directors, and the Board only meets twice a month. So I thought that applicants should be allowed to become consumers first, then given time to comply with the requirements for membership. In the meantime, as a consumer, we’re able to energize them – especially since the National Electrification Administration (NEA) requires that upon payment, applicants have to be energized within 48 hours.
In pursuing my reform, I wrote a technical paper documenting the current process for a household to connect to the power cooperative’s services. I analyzed these processes, and suggested areas for improvement. I proposed a communications campaign to educate applicants not to pay middlemen to apply on their behalf because they can directly apply with us. I also proposed a new process flow which cuts out the middlemen and streamlines the process. More important, I designed a Certification form which says that the applicant has complied with safety and other requirements to be a consumer.
I presented my proposal to our Head. He consulted with the area managers. Generally, they are okay with the recommendations.
Magna Carta for Residential Electricity Consumers
Still, we wanted to improve not just accessibility, but also the convenience of how to access electric service. We did a bit of research and found the 2004 “Magna Carta for Residential Electricity Consumers.” Article 6 on “Right to Electric Service” states that a “consumer has the right to be connected to a distribution utility for electric power service after the consumer’s full compliance with the distribution utilities and local government unit’s requirements.”
However, we found out that in 2010, an amended Magna Carta removed that requirement and now simply required applicants to present a valid ID, proof of ownership, barangay clearance, and a list of loads.
This simplified the process. I went around the barangays with our policy makers, our Board of Directors, and found that residents can not just afford the application, but the house wiring and installation as well.
Board Resolution for SEMA
After finding out that residents could not afford the wiring installation inside their homes, we realized that we could also do this for them. This gave birth to our new program called “Socialized Energization of Marginalized Applicants for Electric Service Connection” or SEMA, passed by our Board of Directors via Resolution 19, series of 2023.
SEMA energizes applicants’ homes with two lights and one electrical outlet. The package costs only Php 3,000 per applicant, and is amortized for a period of 12 months, in addition to their monthly electric bill. At Php 250 per month, the amortized loan is still cheaper than what one of our beneficiaries spends to buy kerosene (Php 20/day or Php 600/month). We also provide free orientations to our beneficiaries.
Impact of the reform
Because of the changes we’ve put in place, applicants are no longer paying middlemen. In the field areas, applicants are getting energized faster. We believe that once customers get their homes energized, they won’t have to resort to illegal connections, and they will have their own meters, their own connection, and the full benefits of membership.
From my original reform idea of making electrification accessible and affordable, the program has evolved to include us physically going inside their houses to install the wirings. The idea really came from our Board of Directors, and I just supported it by doing the research, preparing the draft memorandum, and structuring the procedure, templates, application forms, implementation, and punch list templates.
We are now servicing two barangays, out of more than 100. After Roxas City, we will move to the adjacent municipalities. This year, in terms of monthly energized consumers, we had 524 in March, 430 in April, and 468 monthly connections in May. You can see the happiness of our beneficiaries once their homes were energized. Our program has also evolved to include assigning Electrical Engineering students doing their on-the-job training to do the house wiring under the supervision of our engineers.
A personal note
Unlike other development leaders who can work on their reform agendas on a full-time basis, I don’t have much time to work on my reform because I have a regular job. I’m only able to devote my extra time, effort, and attention to it. The pandemic also constrained my ability to gather data and talk with people in the field.
Another challenge for a “Development Intrapreneur” like me is that my assignment can change. In the middle of the mentoring program, I was assigned to a new project linked to our social media efforts. This is good, because I now know about complaints received on social media – although I still have to set up a system to measure our response. But then again, my time for innovations is limited.
However, the recent developments involving my reform allowed me to deploy some “ninja” tactics. I saw the opportunity to act on my policy reform once I heard our Board of Directors brainstorming on ways to address the various concerns of our consumers: they can’t afford it, problems with connections, long-winded procedures, too many requirements, etc. Our Board and Management team are well-intentioned. They listen to our member-consumers on the ground.
What I learned from this experience is that you don’t necessarily have to be active in pushing for your reform. Just being in the right place at the right time, and recognizing opportunities helps. It doesn’t need to be your idea, you can just facilitate it, steer it in the right direction. You should never lose sight of your end game.
Development Entrepreneurship also taught me how to analyze the problem, and to look for the most significant, underlying problem; and hence, what I needed to do technically and politically to address concerns; and to visualize the potential impact of my reform for the people who are trying to avail of the services of my organization.
This story has been updated with new information on the simplified requirements for members wanting to be energized, based on the 2010 Amended Magna Carta for Residential Electricity Consumers by the Energy Regulatory Commission and the 2023 Socialized Energization of Marginalized Applicants for Electric Service Connection (SEMA) program by Capiz Electric Cooperative.