ERC urged to consult ‘no disconnection policy’

Published October 19, 2020, 6:25 AM

by Myrna M. Velasco

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) was urged to undertake virtual public consultations on its “no disconnection policy” for the power industry, so consumers and the distribution utilities (DUs) would not keep guessing how this particular rule would be enforced.

Since the power sector’s plight is now overwhelmed by diverse voices, including the bid of some advocacy groups for ‘stop payment’ on electric bills, Laban Konsyumer Inc. President Victorio Mario Dimagiba indicated that the public consultation is critical so the ERC can also consider various viewpoints before issuing guidelines on the ‘no disconnection’ directive.

ERC Chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera sounded off in a Senate hearing that the regulatory body will prevent cut-off or stoppage of power service until December 31 this year – which is basically a two-month extension from earlier plans of issuance of disconnection notices by some DUs, including the Manila Electric Company.

On Dimagiba’s view, before the industry regulator would administer that policy, the ERC will need to lay down how the government can subsidize the arrears of consumers who are not really capable to pay their bills.
           “We should look beyond just providing for extension,” Dimagiba stressed; while quizzing the ERC “what happens after December if bills are not yet paid?”

He emphasized that one critical decision point for the industry regulator to consider is “where do the national government stand on providing subsidy to those not able to pay?”

Dimagiba said the ERC must “ask the national government whether they shall be able to subsidize the unpaid bills,” similar to what the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has been pushing for the 13th month pay subsidy for employees in distressed firms.

The LKI president stated even during the height of the lockdown in April, their group already propounded that “those consumers with 200 kilowatt-hour monthly consumption should be subsidized on the 4-6 month installment scheme.”

Unfortunately, he said, that recommendation had fallen on deaf ears, and the regulators just confined themselves at asserting that they will study the proposal.

Dimagiba further proffered the ERC “should get data from the private stakeholders on the aging of their bills from March 11 to October 2020,” so it could have a solid assessment as to the number of unpaid bills that are already due for service cut-off; and which bills deserve to be given extension.

He opined “at this phase of the recovery efforts, the regulators should act with sympathy but coupled with management policies that weigh all stakeholders’ opinions and recommendations.”

On the service disconnection, Dimagiba indicated that at least three notices must be served first by the DUs, including the electric cooperatives, before actual service stoppage will be enforced.