Solar power shines light in rural community in El Nido, Palawan

Lady Vicencio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 30 2022 06:43 PM | Updated as of Nov 30 2022 08:25 PM

Solar power shines light in rural community
Rosie Alcantara sits in her home with a newly installed solar power system in Sitio Buluang in El Nido, Palawan on Nov. 29, 2022. She lives alone these days since the death of her husband, but she hopes with the comfort of having electricity in her home now, her children now living away would have enough reason to visit more frequently. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

EL NIDO, Palawan –– Imagine life without electricity.

Rosie Alcantara, 59, says even seeing becomes a struggle when dusk settles in Sitio Buluang, Barangay Sibaltan in the holiday island of El Nido, Palawan due to the lack of electricity.

“Mahirap talaga kasi nga madilim eh. Paligid ng bahay namin malungkot. Hindi ka makakita ng liwanag. Hindi mo makita ang gusto mo tingnan lalo kapag nagluluto kami,” Alcantara told ABS-CBN News.

(It's really difficult because it's dark. It's lonesome around our house. You can't even see any light. You can't see what you want to look at, especially when we're cooking.)

Located some 4.5 kilometers from the heart of El Nido, homes in the agriculture village have little to no electrical appliances like television or fans.

For resident Joven Usurfracion, electricity is a luxury that he cannot afford for entertainment or even for his family’s comfort.

Instead, he sees electricity as a source of livelihood that powers the carpentry tools he uses to make furniture. But he says expenses for his generator set take the bulk of his income as it uses diesel that now costs at least P100 per liter in El Nido.

Solar power shines light in rural community
Jovelito Usurfacion shows the solar power system in his home in Sitio Buluang in El Nido, Palawan, which he hopes can cut down electricity costs. His income as a carpenter is barely enough for a 2-family household, with her daughter and her family living with him. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Usurfracion is hopeful that his financial burdens will be eased through the solar power system from Spanish company ACCIONA’s corporate foundation acciona.org, which provided access to electricity to around 100 households in the village.

“Mahirap kasi ‘yong isang gallon [ng diesel], 2 gabi lang gamit namin sa halagang P380. Ito, ’yong solar nito P350 sa isang buwan na. Ganoon katipid kung gagamitin namin sa ilaw at kahit anong oras pwede kang lumabas, may ilaw,” Usurfracion said.

(A gallon of diesel that costs P380 only lasts for 2 nights. Solar power would only cost us P350 a month. We could save a lot and any time we need to go out, there's light.)

Lights at Home El Nido is the first project in Asia of acciona.org, which aims to provide energy, water, and infrastructure access to to communities that need it most.

“Sibaltan was chosen because we looked at what places needed this project the most. Sibaltan is off the grid. Electricity doesn’t reach them. Imagine, if you have light that’s affordable at home, you can do things like study. It is for productivity, for wellness, improved lifestyle,” said Joanna Duarte, senior director for social development of Ayala Foundation Inc., which partnered with acciona.org.

Solar power shines light in rural community
Students stand to benefit with the installation of solar-powered system in the local school in Sitio Buluang in El Nido, Palawan that will aid in ventilation during the hot summer months. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

In Latin America, acciona.org has provided electricity to around 68,000 people. It plans to reach more communities in Palawan while promoting solar power as a sustainable and renewable source of energy.

“This is the most sustainable way to generate electricity and solar power is efficient for this sunny place and it is easy for operational maintenance,” acciona.org managing director Jose Gabriel Martin Fernandez said.

About 50 sitios remain without power in El Nido, known for its white sand beaches, pristine lagoons and limestone cliffs, said its Mayor Edna Lim.

Lim said she supports the use of renewable energy to preserve the natural beauty of Palawan, the Philippines' westernmost island known as its "last frontier."

“Siyempre dito sa amin sa bayan ng El Nido, solar [power] system is very good because El Nido is protected area then tourism destination," she said. "Kasi ‘yong hindi naaabot ng PALECO (Palawan Electric Cooperative) is using generator so ‘pag nag-use ka ng generator, we provide certificate from DENR especially dahil sa pollution."

"Maganda ang solar kasi environmental-friendly at siyempre wish ng pamahalaan ng bayan ng El Nido na sana ma-expand and project,” Lim added.

(Of course, here in El Nido, solar power system is very good because it is a protected area and a tourism destination. Areas reached by PALECO use generator sets and we provide them a certificate from the DENR because of pollution. Solar is good because is environment-friendly and of course the local government wishes that this project could be expanded.)

Solar power shines light in rural community
"Mainit lagi dito sa amin, except sa tag-ulan, pero sandali lang ang tag-ulan dito sa amin kaya, kailangan namin dito ng electric fan para sa ventilation," says Gladys Ramirez as she looks forward to having solar power in all the classrooms in the school in Sitio Buluang, El Nido. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Aside from solar home systems, Buluang Elementary School also received tablets for students’ online learning.

Mary Jean Alcantara, a teacher in the village, sees this as an opportunity for locals to be immersed in digital learning.

“Iba po talaga kapag merong ganitong opportunity. Mas magiging interactive ang learning para sa mga bata at sa kasalukuyang panahon, kailangan ‘yong mga bata kailangan maging globally competitive learners,” Alcantara said.

(With this opportunity, learning will be more interactive for the children who need to become globally competitive learners.)

Solar power shines light in rural community
Solar panels start to appear on rooftops of houses in Sitio Buluang, El Nido, as ACCIONA begins to rollout its Lights at Home Project that will install residential photovoltaic systems in off-grid homes. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Barangay Sibaltan Chairman Arvin Gabayan hopes that access to solar power will end their neighborhood’s reliance on king-king, a lamp that burns gas.

“Malaking tulong po ito kasi walang ilaw talaga ‘yong mga kababayan namin. Ang ginagamit nila ‘yong tinatawag nilang king-king. Malaking bagay pag ganitong malakas ang hangin, kahit papaano hindi mamamatay,” Gabayan said.

(This is a big help because our kababayans did not even have light. They used a so-called king-king. Now, we have light that would not go out when it's windy.)

“Masaya na at hindi na kami maghihirap dahil kahit anong oras, mag-charge kami ng cellphone namin, wala nang hassle po. Tuloy-tuloy na ang pagdaloy ng kuryente namin,” added Alcantara.

(We are happy because we will no longer suffer. We can also charge our cellphones anytime without hassle. Our power supply is now uninterrupted.)

Solar power shines light in rural community
Neighbors look at the lights with amusement at the home of Rosie Alcantara as homes in Sitio Buluang, El Nido begin to generate their own electricity in an area outside the province's electricity grid. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News