DISTRIBUTION UTILITIES (DUs) and electric cooperatives have refunded a total of P20.15 billion to consumers, leading to lowering electric power rates beginning in 2020, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) said Thursday.

The ERC said it had ordered the refunds after noting the overcollection of pass-through and distribution charges, which comprised bulk of the P20 billion. The refunds also included market transaction fee refunds and discounts granted to customers.

“The P20 billion in refunds that the commission approved… provides some rate relief, especially to those electricity consumers that were economically disadvantaged due to the limited operation or closure of some businesses,” ERC Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer Agnes VST Devanadera said in a statement.

The refunds have helped effectively reduce power rates during 2020 and 2021.

The commission estimates that power rates in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao were reduced by P0.0025 per kilowatt-hour (/kWh), P0.0028/kWh, and P0.0151/kWh, respectively, in 2020.

Meanwhile, end-users in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao experienced rate reductions of P0.0014/kWh; P0.0088/kWh; and P0.0070/kWh, respectively, in their power bills this year.

“For Meralco (Manila Electric Co.) and Cepalco (Cagayan Electric Power and Light Co.), the refund rates are P0.1528/kWh and P0.0268/kWh, respectively, which represent over-recoveries in the distribution charges,” ERC said.

Ms. Devanadera said the ERC is urging DUs to show empathy by offering flexible payment options to consumers, including a staggered payment scheme with no penalties or interest.

“The ERC is finding ways to reduce the charges being billed by the DUs to their customers, such as the temporary suspension of some charges like the Bill Deposit Adjustment, Universal Charge and FiT (feed-in tariff) Allowance, when appropriate, to alleviate the poverty caused by this pandemic,” she added. — Angelica Y. Yang