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Power revolt brewing over Meralco bills

By Abigail L. Ho
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:19:00 05/05/2010

Filed Under: Electricity Production & Distribution, Consumer Issues, Protest, Social networking, blogging

MANILA, Philippines?Carlo Ople, chief executive of Internet and social media marketing firm Catalyst Inc., did not know what hit him.

As if the scorching summer heat and the occasional brownouts were not enough, his power bill for April almost doubled even when he consumed around the same amount of electricity as in the previous billing month.

Blogger Alvin Delagon saw his bill shoot up from P1,264 in January to P4,527.25 in April.

Expatriate blogger Chris, who lives in a two-bedroom condo unit in Manila, complained that his bill in the Philippines was already more than twice his electricity bill in the United Sates.

Even blogger and fashion designer Cecile Zamora-Van Straten, who has been used to paying more than P20,000 a month for her household electricity consumption since 2004, was caught off-guard when she received her March-April bill last month. It almost doubled to P41,902.

Protest movement on Facebook

They are but a handful of the more than 37,000 people who are now ?fans? of the page ?Protest against Meralco electricity price hike? on social networking site Facebook.

Those without Facebook accounts are also complaining about their surging electric bills.

The Facebook page, created days after the issuance of bills for the March-April cycle, now served as a venue for consumers to vent their ire against Meralco, the independent power producers, National Power Corp. (Napocor), the government, and whoever else could be blamed for skyrocketing power rates.

Each post on the page had so far gotten between 30 and 215 comments from consumers of all ages, educational backgrounds, and income brackets who felt betrayed by the suddenly high electricity bill last month, at a time of rotating brownouts.

Shocked

In his own blog, juancountry.com, Ople wrote on April 29 that he was used to paying an average of P3,000-P3,500 a month for electricity, so he was ?really shocked? when he received his March billing, which said he had to pay more than P4,600.

?I was already bracing myself for a P5,000 bill for April, but, man, I almost fell out of my seat when I opened the Meralco envelope. My bill shot up once again to P7,300 even if the consumption wasn?t too far from my previous month. Now this is what you call epic fail,? he wrote.

Delagon, also in his blog alvinatorsplayground.blogspot.com, chronicled the increase in his power bill: from P1,264 in January, to P1,514 in February, to P2,914 in March, and to P4,527.25 in April.

Expat blogger Chris was more than shocked and disappointed. He found the surge in rates downright ?ridiculous.?

?The first two years that I lived here, my electricity bill (through my own ignorance) was roughly P12,000-P20,000 a month. This past year, I finally moved to a condo, and through smart consumption got my bill down to roughly P7,000 at most per month. Now with this hike and no increase in usage, it has more than doubled. What gives?? he wrote in his blog thedownloh.blogspot.com.

?My condo in Manila, which is a two-bedroom unit and four to five times smaller than my house in the US, averages an electricity bill of roughly $130 a month, compared to my bill in the US, which is roughly around $150 a month. In the US, however, I have (centralized air-conditioning), which I leave on 24/7, including most of my lights and electronics?and I don?t unplug anything. In comparison with this new ?hike,? my electricity bill here in Manila is now well over $300. How does any of that make sense?? he further wrote.

Meralco?s explanation

Van Straten, the blogger behind chuvaness.com, sought an explanation from Meralco.

Responding to her inquiry, Meralco external communication head Joe Zaldarriaga told Van Straten how the generation charge jacked up her electric bill.

?In recent months there have been increases in the generation charge component of the electric bill. The generation charge is a mechanism that reflects the cost of power from Meralco?s various suppliers and since it is a pass-through charge, Meralco does not earn a single centavo from it. The generation charge may reflect either an upward or downward adjustment depending on several factors which are beyond the control of Meralco,? Zaldarriaga?s response read.

Highest in history

Zaldarriaga said that in April alone, the generation charge went up 93 centavos per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to P6.7699 per kWh from P5.8417 per kWh in March.

?The generation charge makes up almost 60 percent of the electric bill. The April 2010 generation charge is the highest in history,? he added.

In an earlier interview, Meralco utility economics head Ivanna de la Peña attributed the significant rise in generation cost to extremely high prices at the wholesale electricity spot market (WESM), from which Meralco gets 14.5 percent of its supply requirements.

Power from WESM cost Meralco P11.63 per kWh as a result of skyrocketing bids at the electricity bourse with demand far outstripping supply.

The price of electricity that Meralco got from its independent power producers (IPPs), mainly natural gas-fired power plants Sta. Rita and San Lorenzo of Lopez-led First Gas Power Corp., also increased due to the maintenance shutdown of the Camago-Malampaya facility in Palawan.

The Malampaya project is the natural gas source of both Sta. Rita and San Lorenzo. While it was under preventive maintenance, the two plants continued to run using condensate fuel. This, however, caused the cost of power generated by the two plants to go up as condensate is more expensive than natural gas straight from Malampaya.

The maintenance shutdown lasted from late February to March 13.

During that period, the additional cost incurred as a result of using condensate fuel amounted to around 42 centavos, which the Energy Regulatory Commission allowed Meralco to recover over a period of six months.



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