ERC sets tough penalties vs overcharging electricity DUs

by Lenie Lectura – November 29, 2015

from Business Mirror

THE Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) said it would not hesitate to penalize electricity-distribution utilities (DUs) that overbill their consumers.

ERC Chairman Jose Vicente B. Salazar has called on all DUs to “ensure that their customers are fairly billed for electricity consumption based on accurate reading and computation of properly installed meters.”

“The ERC will hold accountable any power utility whose negligence results in clear disadvantage to customers. It is the right of every customer to have accurate meters that guarantee the correct registration of their electricity consumption,” the ERC official added.

The agency’s warning came after it recently ordered the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), the country’s largest DU, to refund a customer named William Chan in the amount of P1.8 million.

The amount includes the refunds, fines and interest.

Moreover, the ERC slapped Meralco with a P100,000 fine for “negligence in the conduct of its business in distributing electricity” to Chan.

Excessive billing

CHAN, who is in the tube-ice business, said that on November 16, 1998, he discovered that one of the electric meters installed outside his plant was missing. He noticed that his monthly energy consumption was consistently pegged at 165,240 kilowatt-hour (kWh) for three consecutive months, despite absence of a functional electric meter.

Chan complained that Meralco had been billing him based solely on assumed reading. He said the charges imposed upon him, which were based on mere estimated energy consumption, were unacceptable.

The Meralco customer received the billing assessments amounting to P205,084.40 after the utility company had replaced the missing meter. He said he settled the amount “under protest” to avoid disconnection and interruption of his business.

“Based on the evidence presented, Chan was able to prove that Meralco billed him in excess of his electricity consumption for the disputed billing periods, and that Meralco threatened service disconnection,” the ERC said.

It added that the actions of Meralco proved that it acted with “evident malice and bad faith” in its dealings with its customer-complainant” during several billing periods in 1998.

For this, the ERC found Meralco liable for “excessively billing” Chan.

The ERC also maintained that Chan must not be made to pay for electricity which was not actually consumed. It added that Meralco is expected to ensure during monthly readings that its meters are properly installed.

It also pointed out that such meters must be shown to be operating under normal conditions, considering that Meralco has the technical skills and expertise for their installation.

The company remained mum when sought for comment.