Group unhappy about Meralco's justification on 'four-time spike' in power bill | Inquirer News
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Group unhappy about Meralco’s justification on ‘four-time spike’ in power bill

/ 08:40 PM May 13, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The explanations that were given by Manila Electric Company (Meralco) for the alleged surge in electricity bills and recent power interruptions have failed to appease a consumer group, which questioned its increased charges amid a strict lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Power for People Coalition (P4P) said Wednesday that Meralco’s reason that cited summer weather over the raised electricity bills were the same reason provided by the power firm in the past and did not sufficiently justify the four-fold hike in the bills of its consumers.

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P4P called out Meralco on the issue as some consumers complained of drastic increases in their monthly electric bills. Copies of these complaints were sent to INQUIRER.net.

One bill from an anonymous user showed that the power bill surged from P2,671.86 in March and P2,525.10 in April to P9,358.52 by May.

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Another case from a customer in Navotas City showed that the May billing, or their consumption from April to May, rose to P9,935.93 from just P2,468.62 in the April billing, which accounts for consumption from March to April.  This means that the service user would have to settle a total of P14,612.13 — although Meralco has already clarified that it could be paid in four tranches.

On Tuesday, Meralco spokesperson Joe Zaldarriaga shut down P4P’s claims that the utility service company was using the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to cover-up these issues, saying that the high consumption can also be blamed on the lockdown since the measure against the transmission of the virus has forced people to stay home.

“Mr. Zaldarriaga simply reiterated what Meralco has said before but did not really explain the details on how a single household’s consumption can spike to four times the previous bill’s record. We have receipts, bills which show the difference. Also, we want to ask why they are silent on the refund,” P4P convener Gerry Arances said.

But according to Zaldarriaga, the bills were generated through a system where the average daily consumption is used as a basis, as Meralco personnel cannot physically do meter reading to avoid direct contact and ensure the safety of customers from the latest coronavirus strain.

He also clarified that this method is legal, based on the Distribution Services and Open Access Rules (DSOAR) issued by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

“When the government announced that Luzon will be on [ECQ], meter reading was put on hold to ensure the safety of customers and that of our employees and meter readers. Because of this, March and April bills were ‘estimated based on the past 3 months’ average daily consumption’,” Zaldarriaga said in a message to INQUIRER.net.

He also explained that the March and April billings were based on the average consumption in December, January, and February, which are cold-weather months, thus, having less electric utilization.  The adjustments in the March and April billing, meanwhile, were reflected in the May bill, Zaldarriaga added.

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“The March and April bills were based on the previous three months consumption per ERC advisory, before ECQ where consumption was lower.  However, what was billed in May will be the actual of May plus the adjustments from March and April,” Zaldarriaga added.

Ghosts using air-con?

But a Meralco consumer from Quezon City who spoke to INQUIRER.net on the condition of anonymity said that their household was billed at least P1,200 for April — even if no one was staying at the house since they moved to their mother’s place before the lockdown took effect.

This led the Meralco customer to jokingly speculate if ghosts also need the help of an air conditioning unit to beat the summer heat.

Based on Zaldarriaga’s explanation though, it is possible that a household that has not consumed any electricity in the past months may be billed based on its average consumption during the prior three months.

However, Zaldarriaga also assured that this would be corrected once Meralco personnel do meter reading, which would be done within May.

“Though I am not familiar with that particular issue, it is possible that since this was based on estimated previous three months consumption, what was reflected was the three months previous average usage based on his kwh (kilowatt per hour) used, even if as claimed they were in another place,” he said.

“This will, however, self-correct once the actual meter reading is done since it will be the actual consumption that will be reflected and they will pay only what they should,” he added.

But P4P is still not happy with these hikes, and the service interruptions that came even if malls, factories, and other establishments are not fully operational due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

“We all appreciate the hard work of Meralco linemen in repairing any problems with Meralco’s system. But why is there a problem to begin with […] Because this is not our first summer, and Meralco still did not explain why their lines are breaking down when the biggest consumers are offline during this quarantine,” Arances said.

“Also, we want to ask why they are silent on the refund,” he added.

READ: Amid high rates, interruptions, group asks: Is Meralco taking advantage of ECQ? 

Issues with Meralco have hovered as the ECQ forced the suspension of work, except for essential frontline services.  Several sectors, including P4P, have asked the company to just refund the entire March bill and charge it against pending refunds — as many of its customers were left without work through the lockdown.

As of now, what Meralco can offer customers is a staggered payment in four parts starting May 30, allowing consumers to recover from the work suspensions brought by the pandemic.

READ: Instead of extending bill deadline, Meralco should waive entire March bill Colmenares

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TAGS: 2019 Novel Coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, consumer rights group, COVID-19, ECQ, electric service, electricity bill, enhanced community quarantine, GCQ coronavirus strain, general community quarantine, high electricity rates, Joe Zaldarriaga, lockdown, Manila Electric Company, MERALCO, nCoV update, P4P, Philippine news updates, Power 4 People Coalition, service interruptions, stay at home, summer
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