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ERC directs erring power utilities to refund customers

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POWER UTILITIES were directed to refund the feed-in tariff allowance (FiT-All) and environmental charge to customers, after failing to comply with the Energy Regulatory Commission’s (ERC) earlier directive to suspend collection of these charges at the height of the lockdown.

The ERC said it is currently resolving more than 47,000 consumer complaints regarding electricity bills covering the lockdown period that started in mid-March.

In an advisory dated July 7, the ERC said erring power utilities must refund the FiT-All, the collection of which was suspended in March and April, as well as the collected universal charge — environmental charge since May.

They must also refund customers who overpaid their bills during the quarantine months, which were based on estimated consumption. Electricity users should only pay their bills based on their actual consumption in those months.

Moreover, utilities that have not introduced the ERC-ordered installment scheme in bills payments must return the fully paid arrears to customers.

“For consumers who already paid in full their monthly billings that fell due during the Enhanced Community Quarantine or Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine that is covered by the mandated installment arrangement, they shall also have the option to seek a refund and avail of the mandated installment payment,” the advisory read.

Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), the country’s biggest distribution utility, already promised to refund customers who have paid their bills during the lockdown period but who intend to pay them on an installment basis.

Customers who are entitled to a refund due to overpayments have an option for the amount to be credited in their next monthly bill.

The ERC also asked the power utilities to submit a report on their overbilling and refund scheme by mid-August.

Meanwhile, utilities in Cebu City, which remain under a strict lockdown, were told not to implement any power disconnection until September for customers who have yet to pay their arrears.

Responding to the advisory, the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (Philreca) said before the order on suspending the collection of the FiT-All was released on April 15, rural utilities have already printed and distributed their customers’ bills.

“Most if not all statements reflected the collection of the FiT-All,” it added.

Philreca further said electric cooperatives were able to comply with the May suspension notice for the collection of the environmental charge starting in the June billing month.

“The timing of the release of the advisories makes it impossible to implement the order on the billing period being asked for by the Commission. This only adds to the confusion of our member-consumer-owners,” Philreca claimed.

The FiT-All component is stored in a fund administered by the government-owned National Transmission Corp. (TransCo), which remits the amount to FiT-eligible renewables developer, while environmental charges go to the watershed rehabilitation and management activities of the state-led National Power Corp. (Napocor).

“ERC should order the concerned agencies to refund the collected charges and make appropriate arrangement[s] with the distribution utilities on how to refund the same to the consumers,” Philreca said.

The group urged the ERC to engage stakeholders first before implementing such orders in the future.

The latest advisory came after the Senate Energy Committee prodded the regulator on Monday to probe distribution utilities and electric cooperatives that have not complied with the collection suspension order on some bill components.

Marami pong nag-violate dito. At ’yan ang basis namin ng pag-issue ng show-cause orders sa [mga] distribution utilities at electric cooperatives (Many have violated these directives, and this is our basis for issuing show-cause orders to them),” ERC Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer Agnes VST Devanadera said during the hearing. — Adam J. Ang





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