Energy stakeholders rise up to face the challenges of the ‘new normal’

QUEZON CITY, Metro Manila – In the House of Representatives’ Energy Committee hearing on Wednesday, May 13, Rep. Lord Allan Velasco reminded energy stakeholders in the country from energy regulators, like the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC), to generation companies (GenCos), transmission, and distribution utilities (DUs), to always calibrate their planned measures in mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns in order to protect the interest of the consuming public.

In an earlier high-level virtual energy meeting on April 24, with DOE Secretary Al Cusi and ERC Chairperson Agnes Devanadera, Rep. Velasco likewise underscored the need to give assistance to ‘lifeline consumers’, who usually belongs to the poorest of the poor, further observing that the lockdown may have skewed the definition of ‘lifeline consumers’ since most people are staying at home and consuming electricity in the households. He also sought reassurance that consumers be given a grace period of several months to settle their electric bills.

In last Wednesday’s hearing, Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) First Vice-President Jose Ronald Valles reported that as part of their measure to protect their employees from contracting COVID-19, Meralco suspended meter reading activities during the lockdown in March, and only resumed on May 6 for residential customers. Thus, the billing was estimated based on the average of three months’ consumption. Further, Valles reported that the bills for March and April were then reflected in the May billing statement, which may be paid on an installment basis. The Energy Regulatory Commission and Meralco also gave reassurance that the next electricity bill (after May 2020) will be adjusted to reflect the difference between actual meter readings and the mentioned billing estimates during the lockdown.

As co-chairperson of the Joint Congressional Energy Commission (JCEC), Rep. Velasco says that together with his Senate counterpart, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, they have scheduled a hearing with energy stakeholders next Friday, May 22, 2020 such as the DOE, ERC and DUs (including Meralco) to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the energy sector; the initiatives to address the pandemic; and medium- to long term-projections for the energy sector in light of COVID-19.

As part of its oversight functions, the JCEC may also inquire into recent reports of overbilling and compel energy stakeholders to find a solution that would best serve their consumers and stakeholders.

Finally, Rep. Velasco says that as we hunker down to weather the ravages of the current pandemic and the ensuing ‘new normal’, we could only do so successfully by working together and keeping in mind that the best way forward for the energy sector lies in what is in the best interest of the consuming public and the Filipino people.

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