ERC orders Meralco to explain high bills
The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has ordered the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to explain how it came up with consumers’ electricity bills during the three billing cycles covering the lockdown periods.
The ERC directive was relayed to Meralco through a letter dated May 15, 2020.
In the letter, the ERC directed the power distributor to explain and show proof of its basis in calculating the kilowatt-hour (kWh) consumption for its captive customers during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) implementation, particularly for the billing periods of March, April, and May 2020.
“We have been bombarded with complaints on Meralco’s alleged high billings covering the past three months, including this May, and we need to look into these consumers’ allegations that we required Meralco to submit to us data or information for us to validate the accuracy of their billing calculations,” ERC chairperson and CEO Agnes Devanadera said.
The ERC ordered Meralco to submit the following documents within five days from receipt of the relevant letter:
- Basis on the determination of the kWh consumption of the captive customers during the ECQ particularly for the billing periods of March, April, and May 2020
- Power bills issued by the suppliers used in the computation of the generation rate for the same billing period
- National Grid Corporation of the Philippines invoices used in the computation of the transmission rate for the aforesaid billing period
- the Uniform Reportorial Requirement (URR) for the said billing period
“The data that we required of MERALCO will enable the Commission to determine if MERALCO has indeed complied with the relevant rules issued by ERC, such as the Distribution Services and Open Access Rules or DSOAR, and implemented accurately the pertinent Advisories that we issued on 15 April and 5 May 2020 relating to the implementation of Pass Thru Charges to the consumers,” Devanadera said.
“We are adhering to our mandate of ensuring that the interest of the consuming public is promoted and protected,” she added.
Metro Manila, along with several “high-risk” areas in the Meralco service area, has been on lockdown since March 17. The enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) has since been extended several times until May 15, before it was shifted to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from May 16 to 31.
With the lockdown, Meralco suspended meter reading activities, but a skeleton force resumed such operations on April 18 for corporate and BIZ customers; and May 6 for residential customers.
Given this, the billing was estimated based on the average of three months’ consumption. For example, the March bill was based on the consumption in December, January, and February.
Meralco ready to answer
Sought for comment, Meralco spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga said the power distributor “will be ready to answer all the issues that will be asked from us showing how we specifically complied with the order.”
“We have been transparent from the start and communicated the same to consumers,” Zaldarriaga said.
“We already clarified that as part of the ECQ period, some March and all April bills were estimated based on the past three months’ average daily consumption, following the Distribution Services and Open Access Rules (DSOAR) issued by the ERC,” he noted.
The DSOAR, the Meralco official said, does not only apply to Meralco but to all electric distribution providers.
The ERC issuance stated to apply the previous three months daily average billing as basis.
“This is also actually considered as ‘low consumption’ months as these were significantly cooler months compared to the summer months of March, April and May. Aside from these, the following factors may have certainly affected customers’ May bill, including increased consumption during ECQ, as everyone is at home,” Zaldarriaga said.
The Meralco official further explained that appliances are usually switched on most of the time throughout the day during the ECQ period, especially appliances like fans and air conditioners.
“Air conditioners, which most households would use six to eight hours per day before ECQ, could be used for 12 to 24 hours per day during the ECQ,” he said.
“Also, temperatures are currently at a record high, leading to higher use of cooling devices,” he added.
The May bill is already a result of the actual kWh consumption from the current meter reading, with adjustments already reflected from the previous estimated consumption, according to Zaldarriaga.
“This total, which is already based on the true and actual readings, is what customers actually see in the May bill. That is why you may notice a rise in the total amount due. But Meralco reassures customers that our meter reading activities continue to be accurate, and transparent,” he said.
For concerns or questions regarding the bills, customers are encouraged to call the Meralco hotline 16211 or the company’s social media accounts.
“Of course, it is important to note that to ease customers’ burden of having bills pile up, unpaid bills with due date from March 1 to May 15, 2020 (bill date from Feb 21 to May 6) will be converted to four equal monthly installments,” Zaldarriaga said.
“Meralco promises to provide all the possible options for the utmost convenience of the consumer, bringing back a sense of normalcy and security in this time of uncertainty and turmoil, with the pandemic still affecting us all,” he said.
The power distributor will continue to explore ways to ease the situation for its consumers “bearing in mind their convenience and interest,” Zaldarriaga said.
“As soon as there will be new developments we will most certainly communicate that to our customers,” he said. —Source: KG, GMA News