Meralco, ERC to clear air on bill deposit

Posted on October 12, 2012

LISTED distribution utility Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) will meet today on the implementation of the bill deposit charge amid several customer complaints.

“We have to ask Meralco about implementation of Articles 7 and 28 of the Magna Carta because based on the complaints that we receive, they started implementing the adjustment of bill deposit,” ERC Executive Director Francis Saturnino C. Juan said in a phone interview yesterday.

The Magna Carta for Residential Electricity Customers, issued by the ERC on June 9, 2004 in line with Republic Act No. 913 or the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, provides a so-called bill deposit that can be refunded upon termination of service, or will be the basis of either an addition or deduction of charges based on the monthly average consumption.

The purpose of the deposit, however, was not indicated, with Mr. Juan only saying that the Magna Carta was issued “to highlight that the consumers have certain rights and obligations, like the obligation to pay the monthly bill and the deposit.”

Meralco spokesperson Joe R. Zaldarriaga said in a separate phone interview that today’s meeting will “look for ways to make it easy for our customers [to comply].”

He explained that a fourth of Meralco’s customers may claim a refund and the other fourth should pay the adjustment, while the rest will receive neither based on a pre-determined range of consumption.

Interest gained from the deposit that will be reflected in the bill, added Mr. Zaldarriaga, will be credited to the customers by deducting from the amount they need to pay.

The ERC said the commission wants to know how the distribution utility will address the complaints and “if there are other options that can be explored without deviating from the Magna Carta,” said Mr. Juan.

Mr. Zaldarriaga said Meralco started implementing the bill deposit adjustment in line with other refund programs.

“This is the first batch because we prioritized other refund programs like the meter deposit refund,” he said. The refund of meter deposit -- collected from the customer upon the installation of a meter -- will be completed next year.

“Let’s wait what will happen in the conference, and we will announce it publicly, whatever the outcome for the information of everyone,” said Mr. Juan.

The ERC-Meralco meeting was in response to a letter of complaint filed with the ERC last Wednesday by consumer group National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms, Inc. (NASECORE) and other individual concerns sent through phone calls and e-mail, all of which claimed lack of prior consultation on the issue.

“Had they [Meralco] informed ERC about their plan, ERC would have called for a public consultation that would have allowed consumer groups like NASECORE and the others to give their comments on the plan of Meralco to implement an increase in the customer bill deposit,” NASECORE head Pete L. Ilagan said in a phone interview yesterday.

Issues that may be raised in the public consultation, he said, are: how much total bill deposit is in the hands of Meralco; how much interest have these deposits earned over the years; the growth or increase in these bill deposits; how will the increase be implemented -- one-time charge or spread over a number of months; and are the bill deposits insufficient and causing Meralco business loss.

“It is already in the Magna Carta that utilities can adjust the bill deposit. We already had public consultations,” Mr. Juan said when asked on the possibility of holding another public consultation on the issue. -- CAMCF