ERC slaps P19-M fine on Meralco
The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) slapped a P19-million fine on Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) for the power distributor’s “failure to clearly indicate” on its monthly bills to consumers that its charges were just estimates and for not complying with the ERC’s order to allow customers to pay in installments.
With this negligence, the ERC said in a statement, Meralco violated the directives that the regulator issued during the community quarantine from March up to July.
“Meralco’s neglect to provide accurate and timely information, especially during this time of pandemic has created chaos and confusion to most of the electricity consuming public,” said ERC Chair Agnes Devanadera.
She said the commission issued the advisories to help ease the “financial burden” on electricity consumers during the community quarantine measures implemented by the government.
“This serious neglect by Meralco resulted in a multitude of complaints filed by its consumers to this Commission,” Devanadera said.
Meralco officials said the company had not yet received a copy of the ERC decision.
“We will study the order and we will file the appropriate pleading after consultation with our lawyers,” Jose Ronald Valles, head of Meralco’s regulatory management office, said in a statement.
According to the ERC, Meralco violated its directive for a total of 190 days, with an accompanying fine of P100,000 per day.
The commission based its penalty on billing statements attached to consumer complaints filed with the ERC Consumer Affairs Division, plus the bills from the ERC’s own employees and those forwarded to the office of Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chair of the Senate committee on energy, and sent by the National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms.
The consumer rights advocacy group Power 4 People (P4P) welcomed the penalty on Meralco, but said it was too light.
The fine “will not really hurt the company if it’s not in the billions and if it can only pass the additional cost to consumers,” said P4P convenor Gerry Arances.
Devanadera urged power distributors to take “very seriously” the ERC’s advisories during community quarantines, which she said were intended to help electricity consumers amid the disruption caused by the pandemic.
She said these directives were meant to provide a respite from the various financial problems faced by consumers during the pandemic.
“In real-time response to the changes brought forth by the pandemic, the commission hereby intervenes and provides relief to the most affected consumers in the form of discount to the applicable retail rate,” Devanadera said.
She was referring to additional provisions in the ERC’s latest decision directing Meralco to “set to zero”—but only in the next billing period—the collection of distribution, supply, and metering charges in the bills to lifeline customers, or households who consume no more than 100 kilowatt-hours a month.
The ERC estimated that this discount for lifeline customers amounts to at least P200 million.
According to Meralco, it has 2.77 million such customers.
In a hearing held at the House of Representatives earlier this week, Meralco president Ray Espinosa—on the recommendation of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano—said they would grant their lifeline customers a discount in the distribution charges.
Also, Espinosa informed lawmakers that Meralco would not be issuing disconnection notices until Oct. 31, to give customers more time to settle their bills.
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