A consumer group is seeking a refund of possible over-collections in the missionary electrification charge, citing the declining fuel costs of beneficiary power generators.

The National Power Corp. (Napocor), which collects the universal charge from consumers’ electric bills, has applied with the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to increase the charge by five centavos to P0.2055 per kilowatt-hour (kWh).

Laban Konsyumer said the ERC must require Napocor to consider lower fuel costs in its estimates.

"The current UC-ME (universal charge-missionary electrification) was set in 2015, when fuel prices were much higher than today. Thus, costs incurred have already been recovered under the existing rate," Laban Konsyumer said in a statement Friday.

In a recent virtual hearing on Napocor's petition, Laban Konsyumer noted that Napocor is collecting the bill component "in excess," as the peso depreciated and fuel prices have been declining since 2015.

The Brent Crude benchmark was at around $40 per barrel in July from about $52 per barrel five years ago. Meanwhile, the peso has depreciated 10.7% since 2015.

"The Commission should order a refund of over recovery of UCME (universal charge- missionary electrification)," Laban Konsyumer President Victorio A. Dimagiba said.

By next year, fuel costs paid for by the Napocor "should still be almost 10% lower" compared to 2015 levels, he added.

The missionary electrification fund is collected from grid-connected electricity consumers to subsidize electricity in off-grid areas. It is also used to cover the fuel costs of gas-fired power plants in the countryside.

Since 2013, the UC-ME increase more than four times to P0.1561/kWh from P0.0373/kWh, the group noted.

Moreover, Laban Konsyumer in its petition asked the ERC to "stop and abandon" the collection of UC-ME. — Adam J. Ang