Meralco sets new hike

Computation for January rates to be released today

CONSUMERS face a new spike in their electricity bills as a result of the lingering effects of the shutdown of the Malampaya gas field and other power plants, the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) said Wednesday.

The country’s biggest power distributor will release its computation for the January rates today.

The company’s head of utility economics, Lawrence Fernandez, said Meralco said the actual January generation charges billed to consumers will still be at P5.67 per kilowatt-hour because of a 60-day temporary restraining order imposed by the Supreme Court.

“The December supply month continued to be affected by forced, scheduled and extended power plant outages. These were on top of the Malampaya shutdown, which affected 15 days of the supply month. As in November, all these would correspondingly affect December’s generation costs,” he said.

The Malampaya gas platform was shut down for maintenance from Nov. 11 to Dec. 10 but Meralco was only able to compute the impact on power bills from Nov. 11 to Nov. 25 because its billing cycle ends every 26th of the month.

Earlier, Meralco sought to impose a P4.15 per kWh increase – the highest in the country’s history – but was stopped from doing so when the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order while it decides on the petitions filed against the rate hike.

The government has asked the Supreme Court to excuse the Energy Department and the Energy Regulatory Commission, from commenting on the petitions against the rate hike, even though they were also named as respondents.

The Office of the Solicitor General said both the department and the ERC were nominal parties that were not directly involved in the case, and should therefore be exempted from filing their comments.

In doing so, the government was leaving it to Meralco to defend its P4.15 rate hike.

Meralco was set to file its comment Wednesday, the deadline set by the court for respondents to answer the consolidated petitions.

Oral arguments have been set for Jan. 21.

Petitioners alleged that their constitutional right to due process was violated when the ERC approved the rate hike without public hearings. They also attacked the ERC for approving Meralco’s petition just four days after it was submitted.

Meralco’s P4.15 computation does not include the price impact from Nov. 26 to Dec.10, during which Malampaya was still closed, company officials said.

As a result of the restraining order, Meralco has asked its customers to set aside their December billing and use the November billing as a guide for paying.

Meralco president Oscar Reyes earlier expressed concern over the lingering impact of the Malampaya shutdown and new plant shutdowns on power rates.

“Even as we may expect the generation cost and the WESM (Wholesale Electricity Spot Market) charges, volatile as they are, to drift down to more normal levels in March 2014, rendering this a temporary blip for now, we are still challenged by new or additional power outages which have risen in the last two weeks in the January billing,” Reyes said.

The ERC, meanwhile, has yet to release the results of its investigation into allegations that power suppliers had colluded to jack up electricity rates in time for a Jan. 15 submission to the Senate.

“We have no commitment [to Congress]. It is not yet finished,” ERC spokesman Francis Saturnino Juan said.

“There is no definite timeline for the investigating unit (to submit its report),” he said.

Earlier, ERC Commissioner Josefina Patricia Asirit said it was possible that the report would be released before Jan. 15.

She said commission is set to hold its first regular meeting on Jan. 13 but is not sure when the investigation unit will present its results to the commission.

The regulator is conducting its report amid allegations of market abuse, which pushed up the generation costs of Meralco.

In the House, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali confirmed that the House had not received a report on the allegations of collusion either, despite assurances that the report would be submitted by Jan. 6.

Umali said Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla and ERC chairwoman Zenaida Ducut gave no reason for their failure to comply.

“It is the first time we tasked them to report and they failed to submit. Reportedly they said they will complete their investigation and report on Dec. 30, 2013 and then Jan. 6, 2014,” Umali said.

The House committee on energy chaired by Umali was scheduled to resume its probe of the power rate hike Wednesday, Jan. 8 but the hearing was cancelled.

Earlier, the Energy Department admitted that Meralco’s P4.15 kWh increase was much higher than their anticipated rate of P1.58 per kWh.

At a hearing conducted by the House committee on energy last year, Energy Undersecretary Raul Aguilos had disclosed that the Energy Department already conducted its probe into the unplanned outages that occurred in several plants like the Sta. Rita, San Lorenzo, Pagbilao, Masinloc, GN Power, Calaca and Ilijan.

Meralco blamed the power plant outages, especially the scheduled maintenance shutdown of the Malampaya natural gas platform, for the higher cost of electricity.– With Maricel V. Cruz and Rey E. Requejo



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