ERC slaps P19M fine over bill shock amid pandemic

ERC slaps P19M fine over bill shock amid pandemic

MANILA — The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) has on Thursday imposed a P19-million fine against Manila Electric Company (Meralco) over the bill shock customers experienced amid the coronavirus lockdown.

Among the violations Meralco committed the commission said was it failed to indicate that the bills were estimated and it also did not comply with the mandated installment payment scheme ordered by ERC.

“We urge the distribution utilities to take our advisories very seriously. Our advisories were issued to aid the electricity consumers in light of the ongoing pandemic. It was supposed to provide a respite from the various financial woes of the consumers,” ERC Chairperson Agnes Devanadera said in a statement.

The ERC also ordered Meralco to waive distribution, supply, and metering charges for one month, for lifeline consumers whose consumption do not exceed 100 kilowatts per hour (kWh).

The commission also explained that Meralco should not charge this discount to non-lifeline consumers using more than 100 kWh.

It also estimated that the discount would be 22.4% of the total retail rate, amounting to an overall discount of around P200 million for 2 million households.

In effect, the ERC gave Meralco 15 days to submit a compliance report after implementation, detailing the total number of consumers who benefited and the amount of discount extended.

Dated August 20, the ERC order said Meralco should have presented the information on the bill “not from the point of view of the distribution utility but from the point of view of consumers.”

In coming with the penalty, the commission explained the basic penalty of P100,000 was multiplied by the number of days since the issuance of each advisory up to the latest billing statement on July 9, bringing the total to P19 million or 190 days of violation.

The online news website also reported that Meralco had stopped meter readings during the lockdown, and based March and April bills only on consumers’ previous 3-month average. When May came, consumers were shocked by the higher bills.

Power for People Coalition (P4P), a clean energy and consumer rights group, welcomed the ERC’s decision but also pushed for a refund.

“[A fine] will not really hurt the company if it’s not in the billions and if it [would] only pass the additional cost to consumers,” P4P said.

“We prefer that ERC instead look into the issue of consumer money that Meralco is holding on to, as these refunds amount to the billions and can have a direct positive impact on the cash flow of residential customers, more than any fine ever could.”

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