Oped

Energy interests

  • Civil society organisations can be instrumental in ensuring transparency in energy governance
- SAROJ DHAKAL

Apr 2, 2013-

The story of Andhra Pradesh and its civil society organisation (CSO), People Monitoring Group of Electricity Regulation (PMGER), a partner with World Resource Institute (WRI), is a story worth noting to understand how civil society can come together to improve access to energy. PMGER is primarily an organisation that is a consortium of NGOs whose members include farmers, advocacy groups, unions, and research organisations. PMGER has played an important role in ensuring that decisions related to electricity within Andhra Pradesh are made in a fair and effective manner with the consumer’s best interests in mind.

In an article titled, “Civil Society Groups Help Make Electricity Affordable and Sustainable,” Bharat Jairaj and Sarah Martin, experts in energy governance at WRI, make a case for how CSOs’, such as PMGER, engagement with government and other stakeholders can ensure transparency and accountability for better energy governance. In this case, PMGER has added more responsibilities, from initially advocating for equitable electricity tariffs to contributing to regulatory areas such as power purchase agreements and policy analysis. This CSOs has successful analysed energy policies in Andhra-Pradesh—including the state’s solar and wind policies—to help identify the gaps that can exist in development and implementation agencies for better deployment of renewable energy.

In governance of the energy sector, initiatives taken by local CSOs can contribute to bridge the gap between consumers and the producers of electricity. For instance, deals made in energy projects in Nepal are often beyond the public purview or poorly related to the public. Thus, CSOs in the context of Nepal can contribute to make such deals more transparent so they benefit consumers and make the process fair and competitive for credible investors. Furthermore, CSOs as stakeholders—from inception to the decommissioning of projects—can help overcome any local concerns that may create problems in any phase of an energy project.

Such CSO involvement to make utilities more responsible is not only limited to India but other developing countries as well. For example, in Kyrgyzstan, the Civic Environmental Foundation has been instrumental in establishing itself as a credible stakeholder in the electricity decision-making process. The organisation’s presence has increased government engagement with civil society and the electricity sector is bearing the fruits of this engagement. With improved transparency and participation due to a CSO as a stakeholder, transmission costs and electricity losses have been reduced by millions of dollars. In Nepal, where electricity loss during transmission is almost a quarter of the total energy produced, such initiatives are vital. Furthermore, building transmission lines is a problem due to the impact of high-tension wires on the real estate value of the land they pass through. In such a situation, active participation of CSOs can assist in mediation of conflicts related to the expansion of transmission lines.

The Indonesian case study further justifies the involvement of CSOs in the energy sector. Indonesian CSOs, mainly the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law, played an instrumental role in convincing Indonesia’s parliament to endorse the 2008 Public Disclosure Act, which enhances public access to information and participation in the country’s electricity sector. This resolved a day-to-day problem any entrepreneur with a limited network faces when they have to get information from the government in areas of legal requirements or policy changes. In Nepal, information management systems of many ministries are quite disorganised. Secondly, unless you have a primary contact within the ministry, trying to get core information on projects and processes can prove difficult. In this case, CSOs can play another vital role—as facilitators between politicians, the private sector and the bureaucracy. Not only can CSOs enforce the “right to information act” but they can also assist in managing the web of information, data and reports that pile up within the bureaucracy.

All of this entails the sanctity of fairness, equity and efficiency from the CSOs involved. Are Nepali CSOs interested in becoming such important dialogues for energy access? Will they themselves not be driven by narrow self-interest? Of course, these are always important factors that determine the successful presence of CSOs as core stakeholders in the decision-making process on electricity, energy projects and energy supply. However, with a genuine effort from CSOs, convincing the public on why LPG cylinder prices have to be raised, why petroleum subsidies should be phased out, why grids need to be expanded, what the right remuneration is for displacing livelihoods for hydro projects and why energy diversification is a must for Nepal, are important areas where CSOs actively engage with the community and the government and ease the implementation of policies. In Nepal, where multiple government entities are involved in energy projects, keeping a tab of their work is important to make the system more accountable and approachable for taxpayers, local and foreign investors and donors.

Dhakal is the COO of WindPower Nepal Pvt Ltd.

Published: 02-04-2013 08:47

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