LAOAG CITY, Ilocos Norte – The Supreme Court (SC) has upheld a 2011 decision of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) ordering the Ilocos Norte Electric Cooperative (INEC) to refund consumers P480 million in over-recoveries.
The ERC, an independent quasi-judicial body that regulates the electric power industry, ordered INEC to return to its customers the over-recoveries of electric billings covering the years of 2004 to 2010.
The electric cooperative sought the ERC’s approval in 2011 to refund a total of over-recovery of P8 million from its customers from the same period. But when ERC conducted a recomputation, it found out the proper refund value was much higher at P480 million.
The Supreme Court denied INEC’s petition due to lack of merit, ruling that the CA was not wrong in affirming the ERC’s 2011 recomputation of INEC’s over-recoveries and its order for the amount be refunded.
The High Court promulgated the decision on September 15, 2021, but uploaded it on the official website only on February 8, 2022.
“The SC argued that findings of administrative or regulatory agencies on matters within their technical area of expertise are generally accorded not only respect but finality as such findings are supported by substantial evidence,” according to ERC, citing the 21-page SC decision.
Agreeing with the ERC and the CA, the high court also ruled that the INEC was not denied due process of law. It said the electric coop was given the “full opportunity to be heard through the submission of documents and hearings conducted in connection with its application for over/under-recoveries.”
INEC cannot also demand the ERC to “intricately explain” its decision as long as it was able to sufficiently show the manner on how it reached its computation and provided the electric-coop the ample opportunity to raise its objections.
The commission’s computation was based on ERC Resolution No. 16, series 2009 as amended by Resolution No. 24, series of 2010 or the “Formulae on the Various Automatic Cost Adjustments and True-up Mechanisms and Corresponding Confirmation Process.”
ERC Chairperson and CEO Agnes VST Devanadera on Sunday, February 20 said that the SC decision is a “victory for the consumers,” saying that the commission’s regulatory policies will always put its consumers’ welfare in mind.
“The ERC’s regulatory policies have been proven to be robust, legally-defensible, and consumer-oriented,” added Devanadera.
INEC said it started refunding its consumers in May 2021. The refund, as ruled by ERC, is to be carried out over four years, INEC president Enrico Pacifico Ruiz said in a press briefing on Tuesday, February 22.
So far, the cooperative has refunded P77 million to its consumers. Ruiz said that they will no longer appeal the SC decision and that the cooperative will “totally implement” the ruling.
Noel Andres, INEC’s spokesperson, also said that the over-recoveries do not cover the pandemic years from March 2020 up to present.
The cooperative, citing government rules and regulations, will not be refunding the over-recoveries in cash, said Andres. The refund would be deducted from the generation and transmission charges, among others, from the consumers’ electric bill and would still depend on the individual consumption rate.
Amid public clamor, Ruiz said that the 51-year-old electric cooperative will be “transparent” in reflecting the refund’s amount in the consumer’s monthly billings. – Rappler.com
John Michael Mugas is a Luzon-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowership.