ERC to penalize erring power distributors

Danessa Rivera (The Philippine Star) - May 25, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) will penalize any power industry player found violating its directives while there is a national emergency due to the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 pandemic.

The ERC issued a stern warning to distribution utilities (DUs) through its associations, the Philippine Electric Plant Owners Association Inc. (PEPOA), Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association Inc. (PHILRECA) and the National Association of General Managers of Electric Cooperative Inc. (NAGMEC).

ERC said their non-compliance with the directives contained in the series of advisories it issued would be dealt with accordingly.

“DUs that will be found and proven to have breached our directives during the national emergency and deviated from the intent of the President to alleviate the financial difficulties of the Filipino people during the crisis will be penalized through the imposition of appropriate fines pursuant to relevant rules and laws,” ERC chairperson and CEO Agnes Devanadera said in a statement.

Last week, lawmakers grilled the ERC, along with the Department of Energy (DOE), over consumers’ complaints of “unusually high” electricity bills this month.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, co-chairs the Joint Congressional Energy Commission (JCEC), said the controversy has overshadowed the two agency’s achievements and efforts in ensuring the stability of the country’s power sector and the constant delivery of electricity in every household during the enhanced community quarantine.

Social media platforms and government hotlines were flooded with customer complaints of confusing and   high electricity bills during the lockdown.

Both agencies have directed all DUs and retail electricity suppliers (RES) to defer customer electricity bills falling due within the enhanced community quarantine and modified enhanced community quarantine “without interest, penalties, fees and other charges.”

The regulators also ordered them to stagger the payment scheme of electricity bills for up to four months.

Gatchalian has hit Meralco’s confusing billing statement for May, which he pointed out was the root cause of the confusion for many power consumers. He noted that his office has started initial inquiries on whether or not Meralco has taken advantage of the pandemic to the detriment of the Filipino consumers.

Meralco will release new electricity bills indicating the staggered amount and an explanation on how to settle bills, Meralco first vice president and head of customer retail services and corporate communications Victor Genuino said.

This is in compliance with the recent ERC order to separate electricity bills falling within quarantine periods.

While Meralco customers can pay their bills now, Genuino said it would be better for customers to wait for the next bill with clarity and explanation.

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