The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and Manila Electric Co. have continued to thresh out problems concerning the shockingly high electricity consumption billings given to mostly residential customers following the initial quarantine lockdown in Metro Manila.
The situation has become alarming that even senators such as Sherwin Gatchalian and Grace Poe are weighing in on the problem. Gatchalian urged the ERC and the Department of Energy to order power distributors not to bill their customers without conducting actual meter readings following the easing of lockdowns in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. "The consumers cannot afford another round of bill shock in their electricity bills," he said.
Senator Poe, meanwhile, called on Meralco to issue a "final and correct billing based on accurate meter reading of the actual kilowatt-hour consumption."
Meralco's answer is to appeal to local government officials to allow meter readers to do their thing despite the return of stricter community quarantine measures. That way, electric meters will be updated and used in the billing process, unlike before when the ERC had ordered power distributors to estimate customer consumption to protect their meter readers from COVID-19 infection and possible spread of the coronavirus.
Aside from an unfair overestimation of electricity rates, power distributors are being criticized for increasing electricity rates.
The problem persists as electricity bills continue to increase which, according to the power firms, is caused by several factors such as tighter supply conditions, unplanned power outages, and the slow revival of activities due to easing of lockdown measures.
A pro-consumer group misread the situation and has dragged the Feed-In-Tariff (FIT-Allowance) rates into the picture as a contributor to higher electricity rates. FIT-All refers to the uniform charge billed to all electricity consumers to help subsidize the production of clean but expensive renewable energy, such as solar and wind. Experts say this allowance will help ensure that the country has long-term equitable, secure, and sustainable energy.
The ERC has already ordered the refund of FIT-All and Universal Charge-Environmental Charge (UC-EC) charged during the lockdown period.
Regardless, a sample electricity bill from May to June with a total kilowatt-per-hour (kWh) of 937 that amounted to less than P10,000 shows a measly amount of less than P50 or less than 0.50%. It implies that FIT-All isn’t a contributor to higher electricity rates. Likewise, a June billing period only yielded a P42 FIT-All rate for a household that consumed a total of 2,439 kWh.
The issue of overcharging and the P47 “convenience fee” snuck in its online payment portal should be addressed by Meralco alone. Apart from an explanation and letter of apology to its patrons, the public deserves better service. The thousands of complaints at the ERC and Congress are already evidence that the power distributor mishandled the situation.
The pandemic may be the current enemy, yet this doesn’t excuse the country from ignoring pressing issues such as the climate crisis because these are all or could be interconnected.
Many scientific studies have established that the coronavirus lineage, which started COVID-19, is linked with bats. While this is not directly related to energy use, climate change has altered the ecosystem and forced animals to migrate, increasing animal-to-animal and animal-to-human interaction over the years. It provided more avenues for more viruses to evolve, which was similar to Ebola, H1N1, HIV-AIDS, and bubonic plague, among others. As I write this, there is breaking news in China about another disease outbreak, the novel Bunya virus infection, victimizing 37 people in East China's Jiangsu Province, and spread by ticks. This virus can be transmitted from infected animals or people to others via blood, respiratory tract and wounds.
For us to prevent pandemics, we should take action and implement changes in our lives and our current system. We need more investments in renewable energy, too.