Fifty years ago, NRECA International helped spark an electric cooperative movement in the Philippines, which now has 121 co-ops bringing power to more than 13 million Filipino homes and businesses.
“Today, we are celebrating the success of this relationship,” NRECA Vice President Chris Christensen said at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the country’s National Electrification Administration earlier this month in Manila.
“We are not only acknowledging the 50th anniversary of this journey, but also the cooperatives’ dedication and commitment to your country, to the communities you serve, and to the families that have a better standard of living because of your efforts.”
The partnership between U.S. and Filipino co-ops began when the U.S. Agency for International Development funded efforts by NRECA International to bring electricity to rural Filipino communities in 1969. Three co-ops were formed as part of those early efforts, which led to the creation of the National Electrification Administration. A decade later, the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association—the Filipino version of NRECA—was formed to help unite the country’s growing number of co-ops.
Dan Waddle, senior vice president of NRECA International, said the first three co-ops that began as a pilot project quickly grew to 100 almost overnight at the insistence of Ferdinand Marcos, who was president of the Philippines for more than 20 years, beginning in 1965.
The expansion slowed in the 1980s and 90s due to a lack of funding, Waddle said. In the last 6-8 years, co-op growth has picked up again, with overall connectivity in the nation increasing from 80 percent to 95 percent, he said.
Christensen told the Filipino co-op leaders: “Because of you, millions of your members live a better life, their families have access to improved health care and, for their children, an infinite amount of possibilities through better education.”
The relationship between American and Filipino co-ops has continued to grow stronger in recent years, with Kauai Island Utility Cooperative in Hawaii establishing a sister relationship with two Filipino co-ops: Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte. The Kauai co-op, created in 2003, donated money and equipment to the Filipino co-ops, which in turn helped the new American co-op learn the business. The two co-ops have a special cultural connection because a third of Kauai residents have Filipino ancestry and many of them are from the Ilocos area.
When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in 2013, damaging 33 co-ops and destroying 11, U.S. co-ops mobilized quickly to help restore power and rebuild co-op facilities.
Patrina Eiffert, senior director of NRECA International, said NRECA and the Filipino co-ops still have a great deal of work to do together.
NRECA has a memorandum of understanding between PHILRECA and NRECA’s Business and Technologies Strategies group to perform collaborative research and develop solutions on cybersecurity, grid resilience and other issues, she said.
“The cooperative ties and bonds of friendship between NRECA and the electric cooperatives in the Philippines provides the foundation upon which successful research and development initiatives can be created and implemented,” Eiffert told PHILRECA’s 40th annual general membership meeting on August 7. “Together, we must continue to seek ways to strengthen the innovativeness and sustainability of the electric cooperative family.”
NRECA International also is working with Filipino co-ops on the Sun Keeper Initiative to create grid-tied solar generation that will be built and owned by the co-ops to bring clean, renewable, affordable energy to their members, she said. NRECA International is working with Cotabato Electric Cooperative-PPALMA in southern Philippines on integrating solar into its grid and is in discussion with three other cooperatives to offer assistance on grid-tied solar projects.
Sun Keeper will give those distribution co-ops an opportunity to provide their own power supply at a lower cost, Waddle said. “We think it’s a very significant decision that they’re making to take their future in their hands,” he said.