THE Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) said on Sunday that the Supreme Court (SC) upheld the agency’s decision that ordered an electric cooperative in Ilocos Norte to refund P480 million to consumers instead of the smaller amount it sought for approval.

In a statement, ERC Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer Agnes VST Devanadera described the High Court’s decision as a victory not only for the commission “but more importantly a victory for the consumers.”

“This shows that our regulatory policies have the consumers’ welfare in mind — that is to protect their interests by ensuring that what was charged and collected from them are but reasonable and accurate rates,” she said.

The ERC said the SC in a 21-page decision released on Feb. 3 upheld the agency’s decision that stemmed from Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative, Inc.’s (INEC) application for approval to refund over-recoveries from consumers.

In its decision, the ERC directed the electricity distributor to refund to its customers some P480 million representing over-recoveries in its power billings from 2004 to 2010.

INEC had sought the ERC’s approval to refund a total of some P8 million for the said period. But upon evaluation, the ERC computed the higher amount.

The ERC said INEC, upon the agency’s denial of its motion for reconsideration, filed a petition for review before the Court of Appeals (CA). However, the CA affirmed the ERC decision and denied INEC’s petition.

INEC then elevated the matter to the SC, which ruled and affirmed the ERC and CA’s respective decisions.

The ERC said the SC argued, among others, that findings of administrative or regulatory agencies on matters within their technical area of expertise are accorded not only respect but finality as these are supported by substantial evidence.

Furthermore, it said the SC ruled that the CA correctly decided that the electric cooperative cannot demand the ERC “to intricately explain” its decision “as long as it had sufficiently shown the bases and formulae used for computing the over-recoveries and provided INEC with ample opportunity to raise its objections thereto.”

Ms. Devanadera said: “We will always adhere to our mandate of protecting all consumers and promote public welfare as they are affected by the rates and services of Distribution Utilities and other providers of electric power, and that is consumer empowerment.”

BusinessWorld has reached out to INEC for comment on the decision, but was not able to receive a response immediately. — M.C. Lucenio