LGUs urged to allow ‘onsite power meter reading’ despite ECQ

Published April 1, 2021, 10:05 AM

by Myrna M. Velasco

The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) is appealing to the local government units (LGUs) within the so-called ‘NCR plus bubble’ to allow ‘onsite meter reading’ on consumers’ actual power consumption so another episode of confusing electric billing reminiscent of last year’s chaos could be prevented.

“We want to avoid another surge of consumer complaints, similar to what happened last year, that we are appealing to the LGUs to allow the distribution utilities’ meter readers to conduct the actual meter reading,” ERC Chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera has pleaded.

ERC Chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera

The ERC chief was referring to the ‘estimated billings’ it instructed the DUs to enforce during the strict enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) protocols set by the government in March to May 2020 – that in the end turned out a nightmarish experience for the sector when the industry regulator was swamped with more than 51,000 complaints – mostly relating to questionable billings.

It did not help also that the politicians joined the fray under the guise of ‘committee investigations’; yet ultimately, the consumers’ complaints were not actually acted on efficiently by the ERC.

The regulatory body fined utilities like Manila Electric Company (Meralco), but there had been no compensation or direct action taken on the protests lodged by the aggrieved consumers.

In the ERC’s plea to allow meter reading despite the fresh wave of ECQ in Metro Manila and the neighboring provinces of Rizal, Bulacan, Laguna and Cavite, Devanadera has directed the DUs “to ensure the meter readers wear the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and that they comply with the prescribed health protocols in order to reduce the risk of getting infected with the Covid-19 virus.”

The rigid ECQ measure in the ‘NCR plus’ areas will be initially enforced until April 4 this year, but there is high anticipation of an extension that may last another week; hence, it becomes a tightrope walk scenario again for the power utilities.

Devanadera qualified that they are advancing such appeal to the LGUs because “we are being proactive this time…particularly in those areas declared under the NCR Plus bubble.”

Even the ERC appears to have been burned by its own directive last year, after it was deluged with consumer grumblings that also busted its reputation in the bar of public opinion.

Taking off from last year’s messy events, the ERC apprised consumers that it augmented its Consumer Affairs Service (CAS) division’s communication platforms “in order to address the overwhelming number of complaints referred to the ERC by displeased electricity consumers.”

The agency further stated that it also intensified its social media presence for consumers to have better access to its services.”