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GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – The electric cooperative serving much of South Cotabato province, has announced an increase in electricity rates as a result of higher generation costs which it blamed on maintenance shutdowns of the state-run National Power Corporation’s (Napocor) power plants.
Power consumers, fed up with the frequent blackouts that last for several hours, frowned over the announcement of the South Cotabato Electric Cooperative-I (SOCOTECO-I) that they can expect their power bills to reflect an additional charge of 27 centavos per kilowatt hour on their April electric consumption.
Francis Ian Fedoc, the finance manager of SOCOTECO-I, said the cooperative had to source power from alternative suppliers due to the maintenance shutdowns, resulting in a higher generation rate.
The residential rate, which was previously set at P15 per kilowatt hour, has now increased to P16.11. For consumers with a monthly consumption of 200 kilowatts, this translates to an additional P54 on their May bills.
Responding to calls for lower electricity rates, SOCOTECO-I advised consumers to adopt energy-saving measures such as using LED lights instead of incandescent bulbs, disconnecting unused appliances, and regularly cleaning air-conditioning units.
Earlier, Fedoc said the cooperative’s electricity rates could be lowered with a larger consumer base, allowing for a greater distribution of fixed costs.
SOCOTECO-I has been facing severe criticism from dissatisfied consumers, prompting the cooperative to issue warnings that it will block access to its social media page for users engaging in hate speech.
South Cotabato Governor Reynaldo Tamayo Jr. said several groups were already planning mass actions against SOCOTECO-I but suggested that public concerns and sentiments should be addressed through peaceful dialogue.
Both officials and electric consumers in South Cotabato have expressed their frustration with the electric cooperative for its failure to address persistent outages that have been ongoing for several months. They criticized the cooperative for increasing electricity rates despite providing subpar service.
Delia Asnain, who operates an electronics store, lamented, “This is a double whammy for us. We lose money with the brownouts and still have to pay more for electricity.”
Tamayo echoed these sentiments and said the province was losing opportunities because the cooperative failed to address serious concerns.
He said the province had received visits from several foreign investors in recent months who were willing to invest and establish businesses. The unreliable electricity service, however, posed a significant obstacle to conducting business in the area.
Prospective investors from Japan, China, and South Korea expressed concerns about the high cost of electricity in the region, Tamayo said.
“How can they do business in our place with the kind of dismal electricity service we are having now?” he said.
Tamayo criticized SOCOTECO-I’s management for disregarding the sentiments of its member consumers and increasing rates despite the poor service.
He called on the cooperative to immediately engage in dialogue with consumers and find a mutually beneficial solution.
Koronadal Mayor Eliordo Ogena said the frequent power outages in his city suggest underlying issues within SOCOTECO-I. He called for the resolution of internal problems to ensure a stable electricity supply for consumers.
Officials said residents and businesses have already suffered the consequences of the outages. During blackouts, larger businesses rely on their generators but incur additional expenses for fuel, while smaller enterprises are forced to wait until power is restored before resuming operations.
Tamayo earlier proposed that the provincial government could assume control of SOCOTECO-I to improve service quality as he criticized the cooperative for ignoring consumer demands while implementing increased rates.
SOCOTECO-I, whose franchise is set to expire in 2029, distributes electricity to the towns of Banga, Surallah, Santo Niño, Norala, Lake Sebu, Tboli, Tampakan, Tantangan, and Koronadal City in South Cotabato, as well as Lutayan in Sultan Kudarat and Panapan in Buluan, Maguindanao. – Rappler.com