THE National Electrification Administration (NEA) is allowing rural power utilities to realign their budgets to fund relief programs for poor electric consumers.

In a statement Friday, the rural power regulator said electric cooperatives (EC) may reallocate those budgets for working capital, operating expenses, and social responsibility initiatives.

“The budget already appropriated for the said activities may be realigned into working capital requirements necessary to sustain and ensure the continuity of EC operations and to (finance) their CSR (corporate social responsibility) programs such as ‘Pantawid Liwanag’,” NEA administrator Edgardo R. Masongsong said in a statement.

NEA earlier told the electric cooperatives to cancel their planned institutional activities for 2020, such as membership assemblies and district elections, due to the state of calamity declared after the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

To aid the government’s COVID-19 relief efforts, power cooperatives led by the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association Inc. (PHILRECA) launched the Pantawid Liwanag program, which seeks to cover the costs of consumers with electricity usage under 20 kilowatt-hours (kWh), or those categorized as lifeline consumers.

The group said that 86 ECs have committed to implement the program in their franchise areas, waiving their customers’ bills from the March 26 to April 25 period.

PHILRECA is also lobbying for ECs to tap into funds accumulated under Energy Regulation (ER) 1-94. The fund sets aside for power plant host communities a one centavo per kilowatt-hour (kWh) take from total electricity sales.

After the passage of Republic Act. No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Law, the Department of Energy ordered the use of ER 1-94 funds to support the COVID-19 containment efforts of local government units (LGUs).

The funds can be used to purchase medical equipment, provide special risk allowances for health workers and facilitate mass testing, among other COVID-19 response projects allowed by the department.

“We hope that distribution utilities will be given access to this Electrification Fund as they have already available records, networks, and manpower to implement a project for the member-consumer-owners in the host communities — even if they are remitted to LGUs- and allow them to subsidize the electricity bills of marginalized groups in the EC’s franchise area,” PHILRECA said in a statement on late Thursday.

PHILRECA reiterated an earlier request to include electricity subsidies in the list of benefits under the Social Amelioration Program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

“[W]e hope that the IATF (Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases) would still consider our appeal for the government to provide financial assistance to marginalized consumers through the electric cooperatives as this would certainly augment the limited capability and funds of the co-ops,” it said.

PHILRECA noted that more than half of the 121 rural electric utilities have allocated P118.3 million to pay for electricity expenses of their poor customers. — Adam J. Ang