PhP13.9B in refunds due Meralco customers

MANILA — Refunds worth PhP13.9 billion due customers of the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), spread out in two years or more. The refund means consumers will see their monthly power bills down by an average of P0.1529 per kilowatt-hour (kWH), the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) said in a statement. The exact amount of the refund will be indicated with a line entry in the bill starting March.

The refundable amount is for “over-recoveries” representing the difference between collections from Meralco’s actual weighted average tariff (AWAT) and ERC’s interim average rate (IAR). It was Meralco who petitioned ERC for the refund and is prepared to enforce it.

“We appreciate the provisional approval and that we will follow the order as this will provide much-needed relief to our customers,” Joe Zaldarriaga, the utility firm’s vice-president for corporate communications, said in a Viber message.

In its pleading, the Pangilinan-led power distributor said it wanted to “true-up” its AWAT as against the ERC’s approved rates.

The order was made after trading hours. Shares at Meralco closed down 1.26% at PhP282 each to end the trading week on Friday.

Meralco said in news reports that its AWAT computations based on its distribution rate increased and “differed” from much lower IAR at the height of the pandemic in 2020 when power consumption in households went up.

In 2015, distribution charges jumped in the second half of the year, which made AWAT no longer reflective of IAR.

Refunds would be good news for Meralco customers still struggling to settle their bills after the coronavirus pandemic threw the economy into recession. Grace periods and extensions on most utility bills are to end this February.

Disconnections are limited. Following President Rodrigo Duterte’s order, formalized later by the energy department, Meralco has suspended cutting power on unpaid bills of customers consuming 200 kWh and below until March 31.

“The Commission approved MERALCO’s prayer for the issuance of a provisional authority in order to allow their customers to immediately enjoy the benefits of the proposed refund and provide immediate rate relief especially during this time of the pandemic,” says Agnes Devanadera, ERC chair, and chief executive.

“We hope that the reduction in rate could help our consumers cope with the still ongoing pandemic,” the statement says. (BG/Headline PH)

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