FIRING LINE: Estimated power bills

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

The House Committee on Energy hearing last week brought positive developments for power consumers, many of whom have complained against Meralco’s spike in power bills.

Committee Chairperson Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco addressed their plight, urging the power distributor to provide solutions for billing and service problems caused by the pandemic.

Good thing, Meralco announced that it would extend the suspension of disconnection activities from August 31, 2020 to ‪September 30, 2020. After all, we are still reeling from the after-effects of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). Many lost their income sources while others were left with rapidly declining financial savings.

Perhaps, the Meralco extension, coupled with the 4-6 months installment payment scheme mandated by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), could give consumers the much-needed leeway to get back on their feet.

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All that electric consumption brouhaha was sparked by an estimated billings sent to consumers. It was not endemic to Meralco as customers of several electric cooperatives (ECs) and distribution utilities (DUs) had similar complaints.

ECQ halted actual meter reading for two months, triggering the estimated billings.

During the House session, consumer group Laban Konsyumer Inc. (LKI), through its president Vic Dimagiba, criticized the ambiguity of the ERC advisory on estimated bills.

DUs and ECs nationwide were left to implement their own estimation “without solid and granular directions” from the regulator. Dimagiba said had there been more clarity in the guidelines and advisories of the ERC, the confusion and stress brought about by the estimated bills might have been avoided.

I agree with Dimagiba that there was an “oversight” on ERC’s part. More studies and analyses should be conducted to bring forth improvements for the consumers’ benefits.

ERC should also ensure that ECs and DUs resolve the issues of those who fell victim to estimated bills.

Like Meralco, they should complete physical meter readings of households affected by the ECQ and assure customers that they would only pay for what was actually consumed.

For Meralco’s part, it assured its seven million customers that it would refund meter-reading costs not incurred during the ECQ/MECQ period. It would start implementing the refund on July 15.

It’s only just that ERC requires other power distributors to implement a similar refund scheme.

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