Jump in power bills shocks consumers, Meralco defends rates

Ralf Rivas
Jump in power bills shocks consumers, Meralco defends rates
A consumer rights group finds it unbelievable that electricity consumption would increase 3 or 4 times in just a month, but Meralco says May bills were based on 'true and actual readings'

MANILA, Philippines – Consumers and advocates called out the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) for what they said was the sudden jump in power bills for the month of May, during the coronavirus lockdown.

“While it is understandable that people at home will consume more electricity, it is incredible that consumption would increase 3 or 4 more times in just a month,” said Gerry Arances, convenor of Power for People Coalition (P4P), a clean energy and consumer rights group.

P4P added that there were even several power outages during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in April and May.

“We cannot help but feel that Meralco is using the ECQ as a convenient scapegoat to cover up their shortcomings,” Arances said.

P4P urged the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Board to investigate the allegations against Meralco.

In a statement, Meralco spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga sought to explain the jump in May bills compared to those for the previous months.

He said some March and all April bills were estimated based on the consumers’ 3-month average daily consumption, which follows the rules issued by the ERC.

“The 3 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,” Zaldarriaga said.

But for May bills, Meralco said these are already based on actual readings, which may explain the increase.

“The May bill is a result of the actual kWh (kilowatt hour) consumption from the current meter reading, with adjustments already reflected from the previous estimated consumption. This total, which is already based on the true and actual readings, is what customers actually see in the May bill. That is why you may notice a rise in the total amount due,” the company said.

Meralco added that customers likely used more appliances like air-conditioners at home during the ECQ, ramping up electricity charges.

The power distributor maintained that meter reading activities continue to be accurate and transparent, but P4P is not convinced.

“Meralco’s track record does not allow us to just believe what it says when it comes to our bills. In fact, its history shows the opposite, that it tends to charge consumers as much as what it thinks it can get away with and then very reluctantly part with consumers’ money only when it has no other choice,” said Arances.

Under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, payments for utilities are suspended while the ECQ is in place.

Unpaid bills with due dates from March 1 to May 15 (bill dates from February 21 to May 6) should be converted into 4 equal monthly installments. (READ: FALSE: Bills for March and April 2020 now free – Meralco)

For any concerns or questions regarding meter reading or bills, customers can call Meralco hotline 16211 or visit the company’s social media accounts.

Meralco’s core net income in the 1st quarter stood at P5.7 billion, a modest 2% rise from the same period last year.

Overall revenues dipped by 7% to P70 billion by the end of the 1st quarter due to lower electricity revenues. – Rappler.com

 

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Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.