By Ellson Quismorio
An investigation on the alleged exorbitant electric bills during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) period would give everybody peace of mind, which has been in short supply lately because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thus, said Deputy Majority Leader, Camiguin lone district Rep. Xavier Jesus “XJ” Romualdo on May 19, Tuesday, as he joined calls for the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to look into allegations of overcharging from power distributors during the health crisis.
“To ease the minds of consumers, I think an investigation would be appropriate. It would also enable the government to hold distributors accountable if they did commit violations,” Romualdo said.
Taking most of the consumers’ brunt is the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), which is the lone electric power distributor in the metropolis. The company holds the power distribution franchise for 22 cities and 89 municipalities, including the whole of the National Capital Region and the exurbs that form Mega Manila.
But Romualdo said ERC shouldn’t single out any entity in its probe.
“ERC should look at all private distribution utilities and electric cooperatives, and not just Meralco, because I think consumers in other parts of the country have also experienced bill shock. In Camiguin, for example, our already expensive electric bills have also gone up significantly.”
For his part, Tarlac 2nd district Rep. Victor Yap wondered if the huge reduction in world petroleum prices in recent months had any impact at all on local power generation.
“Wala bang naging epekto ang pagbagsak ng langis dito para mabawi ang mas mataas rin na naging konsumo nga mga residente (Did the oil price plunge have any effect at all to temper the higher consumption of residents)?” asked Yap, who chairs the House Information and Communications Technology Committee.
The COVID-induced worldwide economic standstill caused US crude oil price to plummet to -$38 per barrel in mid-April. Prices are recovering, but very slowly so.
“Most of our energy is still from coal plants,” noted Romualdo. “And even if generation charges are low, if our consumption is still high, it still adds up to an expensive electric bill.”
Also backing an investigation regarding the “shocking” electric bills is Quezon City 2nd district Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo.
“It is to the best interest of Meralco if there would be a venue to explain their side,” said the vice chairman of the House Metro Manila Development Committee.
“The best evidence is the document. We have to see the billing statements,” added Castelo.
Meanwhile, Meralco has assured its customers that their meter readings are accurate.
“As part of the ECQ period, some March and all April bills were estimated based on the past three months’ average daily consumption, following the Distribution Services and Open Access Rules (DSOAR) issued by the ERC,” said company spokesman Joe Zaldarriaga.
“The three months that were used as basis—December 2019, January 2020, and February 2020—were considered ‘low consumption’ months as these were significantly cooler months compared to the summer months of March, April, and May,” he said.
Zaldarriaga pointed out that “aside from these, the following factors may have affected customers’ May bill, including increased consumption during ECQ, as everyone is at home.”
“So, appliances are usually switched on most of the time throughout the day, especially appliances like fans and air-conditioners. Air-conditioners, which most households would use six to eight hours per day before ECQ, could be used for 12 to 24 hours per day during the ECQ. Also, temperatures are currently at a record high, leading to higher use of cooling devices,” he explained.