THE Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) said Thursday that it ordered all power distributors to delay any disconnections of poor consumers until the end of the year.

“Distribution utilities are directed not to implement any disconnection on account of non-payment of bills until Dec. 31, 2020 for consumers with monthly consumption not higher than twice the ERC-approved maximum lifeline consumption level,” the commission said in its advisory.

The order effectively raises the no-disconnection “lifeline” threshold for Manila Electric Co., the country’s largest power utility with more than seven million customers, to users consuming 200 kilowatt-hours (kWh). The normal lifeline level is 100 kWh, according to ERC Commissioner Floresinda G. Baldo-Digal.

The regulator also ordered all power providers to implement at least a 30-day grace period on payments which fell due within the period of enhanced community quarantine and modified enhanced community quarantine “without incurring interest, penalties, and other charges.”

Unpaid balances after the extension lapses will be paid in three monthly installments, also without incurring other charges.

Public offices and other government agencies are not covered by grace periods and installment arrangements, the commission noted.

The ERC encouraged customers who have the ability to pay to settle their electric bills within their due date “to help manage the cash flow in the energy supply chain and ensure the continuous supply of electricity.”

Distribution utilities may offer “less onerous” payment terms to encourage early payment, it said.

Power utilities were also directed to submit each month to the ERC their power supply contract utilization reports, records of customer payments, and records of their payments to suppliers.

The ERC advisory was issued on orders of the Department of Energy under the authority of Republic Act No. 11494, or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan II). — Adam J. Ang