2nd petition filed vs power rate hike

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Friday, December 20, 2013

ELECTRICITY consumers and homeowners on Friday joined the call of militant lawmakers for the Supreme Court (SC) to scrap the P4.15 per kilowatt hour (kwh) rate increase by the Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the country’s largest power distributor.

Similar with the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives, petitioners National Association of Electricity Consumers for Reforms (Nasecore), Federation of Village Associations (Fova), and Federation of Las Piñas Homeowners Association (Folpha) said the increase was approved by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) on December 9 without due process.

They said ERC abused its power when it allowed the spike in Meralco’s generation charge without first requiring publication, notice or hearing involving the public “who will bear the brunt of such adjustments or increases.”

The adjustment will be implemented in three tranches, the first of which will reflect on the December electricity bill. Under the ERC-approved scheme, consumers will pay an additional P2.41/kwh in December, P1.21 in February 2014 and P0.53 in March.

Estimates from Kabataan party-list show the rate hike will translate to extra P830 in electricity bills of households consuming 200 kwh a month and P1,440 for those who used up 400 kWh of power.

The price increase was said to have been influenced by Meralco’s decision to buy expensive power from the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) as a result of the month-long maintenance shutdown of the Malampaya natural gas plant off Palawan.

This was aggravated by simultaneous outages of other power plants, leading some groups to accuse Meralco and generation companies of collusion to create an artificial increase in prices. The Senate, Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are now looking into the allegation.

Nasecore and allied groups also urged the High Court to form a committee headed by the Commission on Audit (COA) to scrutinize Meralco’s rate hikes since 2004. The groups said Meralco should refund customers should it be found liable for overcharging.

The petition asked for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) or status quo ante order (SQAO) to stop Meralco from implementing the new rates while the case is pending.

The SC en banc is on recess but the rules allow Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to act on the petitions on behalf of the court, subject to confirmation by 14 other magistrates on their first session next year.

For his part, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV filed Senate Bill 2049 seeking to subsidize energy consumers through the Malampaya Fund “in case of market failure.”

“In times of market failures such as the present power rate hike, the government must leave no stone unturned to safeguard the interest of every Filipino consumer’s interest. The effect of this power hike is to diminish an already weak purchasing power of marginalized Filipinos,” he said.

The bill, which aims to amend Presidential Decree 910, also authorizes the use of the fund to restore vital energy infrastructure affected by man-made and natural calamities such as Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), whose strong winds cut off power to badly-hit Visayas. (Sunnex)

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