AROUND 2.8 million power users representing 40% of Meralco’s customer base have yet to receive their bills — VICTOR V. SAULON

By Adam J. Ang

MANILA Electric Co. (Meralco) advised its customers that their upcoming bills for June will be higher as these will reflect their total actual consumption during the lockdown period.

Ang bills na matatanggap nila ay naglalaman ng actual na konsumo sa loob ng apat na buwan. Asahan po na mas malaki ito kumpara sa usual na natatanggap nilang bill na para sa konsumo ng isang buwan lamang,” Meralco Spokesperson Joe R. Zaldarriaga said in a virtual briefing over the weekend.

(The bills they will receive this month include their actual consumption during the four months. Expect that this will be higher compared to their usual monthly bills.)

The distribution utility drew flak from customers last month, complaining of their high charges. The high bill resulted from Meralco’s computation of both the actual electricity consumption of its customers in May and estimated billing in March and April.

The Philippines’ biggest electricity distributor said around 2.8 million customers representing 40% of its customer base have yet to receive their bills during the quarantine period this June as the utility restarted reading their meters with the easing of lockdown measures.

Dahil sa restrictions na ito, may natira pa pong 2.8 million customers na hindi nabasahan ng metro noong May kaya’t minabuti ng Meralco na huwag na munang magpadala ng bills hangga’t hindi pa nababasa ang kanilang actual consumption,” Mr. Zaldarriaga said.

(Because of restrictions, electricity meters of 2.8 million customers were not read in May so, Meralco decided not to deliver their bills until they can be read for their actual consumption.)

Starting this month, customers who have yet to pay their bills during the lockdown period can settle these in monthly installments as per the order of the Energy Regulatory Commission on May 22.

In an advisory, the regulator told power utilities to allow their customers with 200 kilowatt-hours (kWh) and below of consumption in February to settle their unpaid bills during the quarantine period in six monthly installments, while those with above 200 kWh consumption can pay their March-May bills in four installments.

The installment bill will come as a separate charge that is due on every 15th day of the month, while a customer’s regular monthly bill is due on the last day of the month.

According to Meralco Head of Commercial Operations Agnes R. Macob, customers who already received their bills in May can settle their unpaid dues starting mid-June, while the remaining 40% who are yet to be billed this month will start paying their installment bills on July 15.

Meanwhile, the listed utility has yet to decide whether it will invoke another “force majeure” provision on their supply contracts.

A force majeure event is an uncontrollable event that makes it impossible for power plant operators to fulfill their obligations

In April, Meralco relaxed its power supply agreements with suppliers to bring down the cost of electricity amid falling demand during the quarantine period. It resulted in lower generation charges passed on to customers.

Sa ngayon, ‘di pa namin masabi kung mai-invoke ang force majeure. Imo-monitor pa rin naman ang demand from our customers, kasi ‘yun ang pinaka-root ng pagi-invoke ng force majeure that when the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) started demand fell by 30% compared to its pre-ECQ levels,” Meralco Head of Utility Economics Lawrence S. Fernandez said.

(For now, we cannot say if we would invoke a force majeure provision. We still have to monitor customers’ demand as this is the reason for invoking such a provision during the ECQ period when demand fell by 30% compared to pre-quarantine levels.)

Meralco noted peak customer demand reached over 10,400 megawatts in Luzon as businesses restarted operations with the easing of quarantine restrictions.

Moreover, the utility said its suppliers agreed to lift the minimum off-take provision in their contracts which capacity charge is passed on to customers.

Complying with the ERC order, Meralco will not be collecting the universal charge to cover environmental costs of P0.0025 per kWh from customers in the June bill.

Also, it has suspended the guaranteed minimum billing demand for business customers with contracted consumption as an aid measure.

Meralco’s controlling stakeholder, Beacon Electric Asset Holdings, Inc., is partly owned by PLDT Inc. Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls.