WITH roughly four million of Filipinos out of work, compounded by the incessantly rising prices of basic commodities, Filipino consumers are indeed in a dizzying ride for survival through the economic mare’s nest stirred up by the COVID-19 pandemic.
There’s still one item in the monthly budgets of Filipino families that is on a downtrend – their electric bill, primarily those served by the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the country’s biggest power distribution utility.
In the past two months, Meralco electricity rates had been on downward adjustment – reduced by P0.0704 per kilowatt hour (kwh) in February; then pared by a heftier P0.3598 per kwh in the March billing cycle.
For consumers within the usage base of 200 kilowatt hours, the February rate cut enabled them to save P14, while the March cut resulted in savings up to P72, amounts that cash-strapped consumers may rather realign for their other most basic needs such as food.
The reduction in generation charges in the past two months was mainly due to the downsizing of prices in the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) and better dispatch of contracted power capacities. But contributing factors to the Meralco rate cuts were the two refund orders of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) that the utility firm is now reflecting on the electric bills it is dispatching to consumers.
The first refund of P0.1331 per kwh was approved by the regulator in December, 2020, and was reflected in the bills starting January, 2021, until the March, 2021, billing, with offsetting due to a parallel directive on a pass-on of the utility firm’s cost under-recoveries.
The next phase of refund was approved by the ERC last month, based on an earlier application of Meralco. The payout of P13.9 billion will be spread over two years. For residential consumers, it will be a reduction of P0.2761 per kwh in their bills starting March, 2021, until February, 2023.
As stated by ERC Chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera, when the ERC approved the Meralco payback, the resulting cost reductions will “allow customers to immediately enjoy the benefits of the proposed refund and provide immediate relief especially during this time of pandemic.”
Meralco also stretched payment terms for customers who are hard up in fully settling their arrears – especially the bills that piled up when quarantine lockdowns were implemented at their toughest in March-June last year.
Meralco is alerting its customers that the coming summer period is when power demand surges and this could trigger rate spikes. It thus issued a word of caution for these coming months: Use energy efficiently and responsibly.