"Consumers demand nothing less from Meralco."
Before the COVID-19 lockdowns, the Department of Energy (DoE) was expecting a very tight power supply situation in 2020. Concurring with this projection, just this January, the Independent Electricity Market Operator of the Philippines Inc. (IEMOP), operator of the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM), expected rising prices because of the increasing consumer demand, worsened by delays in the building of new power generation sources. At best, new power plants were expected to go online in 2021-2022, that is before the lockdowns happened.
The stay-at-home restrictions of the Luzon-wide Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) reversed the looming power shortage virtually overnight as the daily congestion of Luzon’s business districts, bustling malls, and factories, suddenly stopped operations. The height of the lockdowns in March was reported by the DoE to have dropped electricity demand by 30 percent.
So where is the 70-percent demand coming from?
Aside from the essential operations that were allowed to continue during the ECQ, we consumers shifted at least eight hours of our electricity consumption from our workplace to our homes. Whatever we consume at home, whether it be food, water, electricity, domestic services, and entertainment, must be paid for like all transactions.
As rising figures are reported daily on the country’s COVID-19 data, there seems to be a disconnect in interpretations on whether we are flattening the curve or just beginning to find out where we actually are as testing rates and capacities improve. Anxieties are already high, and everyone is sensitive to any perceived aggravation of the already serious situation.
This disconnection or failure to understand is oftentimes a gap in communication especially when jargon, technicalities, and knee jerk, emotional reactions fog out a more factual, calm, and unbiased view of a situation. This is what happened to the confusion over Meralco’s electric bill during the ECQ months.
A not-so-simple approach to understanding a controversy is to listen to all sides, filter the facts from fiction, and analyze the data to come up with an easy to understand explanation. In this case where there is public interest, simplifying the communication is best.
Listening to the testimonies from the hearings in both Houses and Congress and a cursory review of the highly regulated mandate of Meralco as a Distribution Utility service, it seems that the billing confusion can be traced to the Energy Regulation Commission’s (ERC) policy to charge an estimated amount based on electricity consumption in the past three months when ECQ conditions did not allow Meralco’s electric meter readers to make their normal rounds. When meter reading resumes, the actual consumption can then be computed and reconciled in the succeeding billings.
Apparently, everybody was understandably pre-occupied with lockdown concerns and did not give this force majeure procedure, though announced and discussed in some of the news and daily updates on COVID 19, could not compete with the overload of pandemic news. Hence the bill shock when the May billing was delivered.
Electricity bills during the cooler weather months of January to February are always relatively lower compared to the hot and humid summer months when air conditioning and electric fans are blowing day and night. Meralco explained that the bill received in May was based on “actual” meter reading already adjusted from the previous “estimated” consumption. Observing the reactions of stakeholders, this did not match their perceived average consumption. Meralco, seeing the misunderstanding, admitted that there should have been better communication; it has apologized in many venues.
Moving forward, a more Solomonic and simple solution was allowed by the Energy Regulatory Commission. All affected in the ECQ areas will just wait for the June billing where actual consumption will be reconciled whether you paid your previous billing or not. To avoid the expected high billing from consumption in the ECQ months, consumers with 201 KWH monthly consumption have the option to pay in four monthly installments while all others may pay in six months. This is simple and reasonable.
The simplest way to check is to compare your meter reading in June with the last pre-ECQ bill. That’s how much KWH you actually consumed while you and your family, still quarantined, used electric fans, aircons, TV, lights and all other gadgets and appliances in your home 24/7. Just the number of times you open your refrigerator and iron your clothes will already affect your electric bill.
More alleviation measures are being implemented to lower the electricity bill, such as: suspension of the Guaranteed Minimum Billing Demand for Meralco customers with contracted consumption, suspension of Minimum Off take Provision by power generation plants, and the suspension of the environmental charge component in the universal charge starting July.
Meralco has promised to be fair and square. As consumers, we demand no less.