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Pro-consumer measures

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - April 18, 2021 - 12:00am

Lower power costs in Metro Manila significantly contributed to the easing of inflation in the National Capital Region (NCR).

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that the March inflation rate in the region went down to 3.7 percent from the 4.1 percent recorded in February.

Power, among other several factors, accounted for the drop. According to the PSA, it saw annual increments in the electricity, gas, housing, water, and other fuels group in NCR at only 0.3 percent versus the 0.9 percent registered in the same period last year.

Manila Electric Co.’s power rates went down to P8.3195 per kilowatt hour last month after a 36 centavo per kwh decrease, the lowest since August 2017, thanks to measures undertaken by the company, led by its president and CEO Ray Espinosa, easing the burden of consumers during this prolonged pandemic.

For the whole of 2020, Meralco’s power rates went down by more than one peso per kwh. While the prices of other products, goods, and services were rising, electricity charges for the Meralco franchise customers were actually going down, to the delight of many users.

According to company officials, Meralco is always looking for ways to help its customers through these trying times.

For instance, Meralco – by its own initiative, started implementing the distribution rate true-up refund last month, which is the primary reason for the recent rate reductions.

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) provisionally approved Meralco’s proposal to refund around P13.9 billion over a period of 24 months or until the amount is fully refunded. The amount represents the difference between the actual weighted average tariff and the ERC-approved interim average rate for distribution-related charges for the period July 2015 to November 2020.  For residential customers, the refund rate is P0.2761 per kwh and will appear in customer bills as a line item called “dist true-up”.

Another measure that helped reduce power rates is Meralco’s implementation of new power supply agreements (PSA) in 2020 which resulted in significantly lower generation costs, providing savings estimated of around P8.4 billion to consumers. Via a competitive selection process, Meralco bids out its electricity supply requirements, allowing distribution utilities to buy electricity from power generators in a transparent manner and at the least possible cost while ensuring stable supply.

Meanwhile, with the operating restrictions due to the imposition of community quarantine, Meralco provided payment relief to customers who were unable to meet their guaranteed minimum billing demand (GMBD) or the minimum demand in kwh for business customers with contracted capacity of five kw and above. It covers the development, operations, and maintenance of Meralco’s distribution system from the transmission grid to commercial and industrial accounts. And because of the payment relief, business customers, especially the small and medium enterprises, were able to save as much as P3.2 billion.

Other measures implemented by Meralco, under its strong leadership, to help reduce power costs include claiming force majeure against its power suppliers, which resulted in reducing fixed costs and avoiding charges from temporary suspension of mid-merit supply contracts, thus providing savings of P2.4 billion to consumers; shouldering the convenience fees charged by third party payment gateway partners of Meralco amounting to over P100 million for 2.2 million Meralco online payment transactions; and refunding meter reading charges of P64.1 million to consumers for the months when bills were estimated.

But Meralco’s efforts in looking for ways to help its customers who are suffering due to this pandemic, not only physically, but also in terms of reduced incomes, continue.

Just recently, it announced that the suspension of all disconnection activities in its franchise area would continue until April 30, following the government’s announcement placing the National Capital Region, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal under a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) until the end of the month.

Meralco first vice president and chief commercial officer Ferdinand Geluz said they are hoping that this extension would help lessen the burden of their customers and provide enough relief and time for them to settle their bills.

Despite the quarantine, Meralco will continue its vital operations such as meter reading and bill delivery activities, pursuant to the ERC’s order and while observing strict health protocols. It will also continue to work round the clock to serve its customers. The meter readings will ensure that actual consumption for the month will be billed accordingly. Meralco crew will also be on standby 24/7 to respond to any emergencies and reports.

Officials said that Meralco customers can send a personal message via Facebook Messenger, Twitter or call its 16211 hotline before going to Meralco Business Centers, which will be on skeleton force, for any inquiries and concerns on billing and payments as a precaution against the rising number of COVID-19 cases. Not only will sending a PM save time and effort, but more importantly, it will also minimize any potential and unnecessary exposure to the virus.

These different measures implemented by Meralco have not gone unnoticed.

Consumer group Laban Konsyumer Inc. (LKI) commended Meralco for the extended suspension of disconnection activities in its franchise area, especially since many workers still have no means to pay their bills.

LKI president Vic Dimagiba said he hopes other utilities and electric cooperatives would follow this example as an extension would help lessen the burden of customers and provide enough relief and time for them to settle their bills.

Dimagiba said it is important and very crucial for consumer welfare that Meralco and other DUs’ business operations, including meter reading and bill delivery activities, continue throughout the MECQ to ensure that actual consumption for the month is billed accordingly.

But LKI encouraged customers who have the means, the funds, and the ability to pay to settle their bills within the original due date, to help manage the cash flow in the energy supply chain and ensure the continuous supply of electricity. This can also help avoid bill shock and piling up of payables later on, it added.

 

 

For comments, e-mail at mareyes@philstarmedia.com

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