Meralco settles fines, plans P200-M discount to poor customers in Oct.

PHILSTAR/EDD GUMBAN

MANILA Electric Co. (Meralco) has settled its fines for allegedly breaching billing directives from the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), while it plans to cover the distribution charges of its poor customers in October.

In the last week of August, the regulator imposed a P19-million fine on the utility giant for supposedly failing to clearly communicate to customers their bills during the height of the strict lockdown and for breaking its compliance with the mandated installment payment scheme.

The said fine “was already settled last Friday as a gesture of goodwill, with a short manifestation that the amount should be less, considering ERC’s guidelines,” Meralco Utility Economics Head Lawrence S. Fernandez told BusinessWorld on Wednesday.

Meralco was also directed to shoulder around P200 million in distribution, supply, and metering charges of its more than two million poor customers.

“On the implementation of zero distribution charges for lifeline customers, the target is to reflect this in October bills,” Mr. Fernandez said.

The power company incurred a penalty of P100,000 each day from May 5 to July 9, before it issued personalized letters explaining to customers their electricity bills between March and June, according to the ERC. The commission has based its decision on its evaluation of various billing statements.

“Our advisories were issued to aid the electricity consumers in light of the ongoing pandemic. It was supposed to provide a respite from the various financial woes of the consumers,” ERC Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer Agnes VST Devanadera said in a previous statement.

The issue stemmed from bill shocks reported in May when the electricity distributor started delivering consumer bills, which were based on estimates. Later, all power providers in the country were tasked to charge households based on actual electricity usage during the lockdown months.

Meralco’s controlling stakeholder, Beacon Electric Asset Holdings, Inc., is partly owned by PLDT Inc. Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., has a stake in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group, which it controls. — Adam J. Ang





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