With mounting customer concerns over the allegedly high charges on bills, the Department of Energy (DoE) on Tuesday tasked the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) to explain the manner of its computation of the public’s power consumption rates during the quarantine period.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi has asked Meralco to explain the supposed high billings covering the past three months, and the online fees being charged to the consumers.
“Our Consumer Welfare and Promotion Office has received several complaints about their Meralco bill shock and convenience fee. We wrote a letter to Meralco to submit to us the data that would validate the accuracy of their billing calculations,” Cusi disclosed.
“In particular, the convenience fee for using their online platform is not giving convenience to the consuming public,” he added.
Cusi noted that the average consumption should not be “higher than the highest” consumption in the past 12 months.
“An average cannot be higher than the highest consumption in the previous months. But the bill that was supposed to be an average is higher than the highest bill that they have received in the previous months,” he explained.
In response to DoE’s inquiry, Meralco said the P47 fee that customers pay for some online payment platform, an option they provided to address customers’ clamor for 24/7 payment option, are not charged by the company.
Lawyer William Pamintuan, SVP and Head Legal and Corp Governance at Meralco, said online fees are not Meralco’s charges but are billed by the online payment service provider to those using its system to process online payments.
“This is purely voluntary on the part of the customer and is just one of the many available payment options. Further, Meralco is not charging the online fees to its rates as this will mean passing the burden to other customers who are not the beneficiaries of the online payment system,” Pamintuan said.
In a letter dated 15 May, the Energy Regulation Commission (ERC) also requested Meralco to submit its National Grid Corp. of the Philippines invoices used in the computation of the transmission rate and the Uniform Reportorial Requirement for the billing period.
The ERC said these requirements should be submitted within five days from the receipt of the letter.
It can be recalled that Meralco rates for this month were expected to decrease due to a reduction in its overall electricity rates by P0.2483 per kWh to P8.7468/kWh from April’s P8.9951/kWh. A household consuming 200 kWh to likely see a P50 cut on its monthly bill.
Meralco resumed reading the meters of its residential customers on 8 May.
Last week, the country’s biggest electricity distribution utility said the customers’ bill shock was a result of the actual electricity consumption in kilowatt-hours (kWh) from the current meter readings, in addition to the estimated consumption reflected in the deferred April and March bills.
Meralco spokesman Joe Zaldarriaga noted that the apparent spike in electricity bills was prompted by various factors including the increase in power consumption during the quarantine period and the high May temperatures which led increased usage of cooling appliances at home.
Recent advisories from the ERC and the DoE ordered power stakeholders to extend the grace period earlier given for customers in areas still in quarantine.
They also both ordered the staggered payment of deferred bills during the quarantine period, to be paid in four equal installments over the next four billing months as a policy aid.