AFTER 30 years of on-again, off-again effort, Congress has finally managed to create a law institutionalizing energy efficiency and conservation in the Philippines. The much larger and more important task of ensuring the law is followed and has a substantially positive impact now lies ahead.

On Thursday, the Bicameral Conference Committee approved the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act, the reconciled version of Senate Bill 1531 and House Bill 8629. Once signed into law, the measure will create an institutional framework at different levels of government to promote energy conservation practices in the Philippines.

According to Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy, the Philippines is the last country in Southeast Asia to pass a law mandating conservation practices and providing incentives for energy-efficient projects.

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act will create a new government body, the Inter-Agency Energy Efficiency and Conservation Committee, which will oversee implementation of the Government Energy Management Program (GEMP), aimed at reducing electricity and fuel consumption by the government.

In addition, the Act calls for the creation of a National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Database to centralize information about energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies and energy consumption data.

The central feature of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act is the development of a National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Plan, which will create a conservation policy at the national level, including targets, monitoring and evaluation, and energy conservation strategies. The national-level plan will be repeated at the level of local governments, with the creation of local energy efficiency and conservation plans, as well as “the inclusion of Guidelines on Energy Conserving Design on Buildings in the issuance of building permits.”

The Act also includes provisions for tax incentives and technical assistance from government agencies to encourage compliance with the conservation standards that will be created by the national and local plans.

As encouraging as the aspirations of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act are, as the old saying goes, “the devil is in the details;” in the fashion that has become typical of Philippine legislation, there are not many in the measure that will be forwarded to Malacañang for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature. This is a cause for some concern.

Over the years there have been many instances when a sweeping, progressive legislative measure has failed to take practical effect, or has fallen short of expectations after being passed, because making the new law operational has not been effectively managed by the implementing rules and regulations (IRR).

Those who will be tasked to develop the IRR for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act will have their work cut out for them, because a number of key questions need to be resolved. Funding for the new programs, including the proposed incentives, needs to be found, and the details of those incentives — critical information for the investors the Philippines needs to attract in the sustainable energy space — need to be worked out and clearly communicated.

Similarly, the extent to which various parts of the yet to be written energy efficiency and conservation policies will be obligatory or merely encouraged must be determined. For example, will energy-efficient design standards become part of new building codes, or will they just be recommendations whose adoption is encouraged through incentives?

Along with these kinds of questions, the high cost of electricity must also be addressed. No amount of incentives will encourage compliance with new standards if doing so results in even higher power costs or does not offer a sustainable economic advantage.

While complex, these issues can be effectively resolved now given the welcome first step of passing the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Act. We urge Congress and the administration to work together to effectively carry this promising measure forward from aspiration to reality.