By Joseph B.A. Marzan
The Iloilo Electric Cooperative III (ILECO III) on Monday denied it had violated advisories by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) on suspension of several charges stipulated in its monthly bills to customers.
Over the weekend, the ERC stated that ILECO III was one of the distribution utilities (DU) which violated two of their advisories dated March 20, 2020 and May 22, 2020, respectively.
These advisories provided for the suspension of the collection of two additional charges – the Feed-In-Tariff Allowance (FIT-All) for the months of March and April, and the Universal Charge-Environmental Charge (UC-EC) from May onwards.
The suspensions were due to the economic effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in the country.
The FIT-All, which passes on to the customer a P0.0495 per-kilowatt-hour monthly charge, is remitted by DUs to the National Transmission Corporation (TransCo).
The UC-EC, meanwhile, is also a monthly charge of P0.025 per kilowatt hour, which is remitted to the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management (PSALM) Corporation for watershed rehabilitation.
ILECO III was only able to implement the advisories on the suspension of charges on FIT-All and UC-EC in April and June, respectively.
The local DU, which serves Ajuy, Anilao, Balasan, Banate, Barotac Viejo, Batad, Carles, Concepcion, Estancia, Lemery, San Dionisio, San Rafael, and Sara towns, was still able to collect FIT-All charges in April and May totaling to P338,520.92.
In an interview with Aksyon Radyo Iloilo, ILECO III General Manager Consorcia Penarañda explained that they had already printed their monthly bills when they received the ERC advisories.
The ILECO III’s billing cycle, according to Penarañda, starts from the 10th day of the month, and ends on the 28th of the same month.
“The advisories dated March 20 suspended FIT-ALL for the month of March. We’re also following a billing cycle, and we already start distributing the bills out by March 10. It was difficult that we had already distributed a portion of our bills when we saw the notice. So we implemented it in the following months, April and May,” Penarañda explained.
Penarañda added that it was the same reason why they stopped charging the UC-EC in June instead of May.
“The next notice was posted on May 22, issuing the suspension of the implementation of the UC-EC [charge]. The billing [cycle] is almost over at that time. For the same reason, we imposed [the advisories] in June. So what were our violations? Because the notices arrived late, and we implemented accordingly and remit [to TransCo and PSALM] immediately. It would be difficult for us to reprogram, there would be a probable error or distortion if we implement them immediately,” she added.
She said that they have already drafted a letter addressed to the ERC to answer the allegations, which they will send once they have received a show-cause order.
“We’ve already drafted a letter, because we knew that we had to be prepared to justify in the case of a show cause order. We will give it to them in writing,” she said.
Penarañda stated that if the government wished for them to refund these charges, the government must also refund to them what they were able to remit.
“We can refund it if the government can also refund what we have remitted to them. Every single centavo is remitted intact. Whatever is collected, we remit it. If we refund, the government has to refund. We do online remittance in the latest banking system. Every month that we collect, we report it to the ERC because we have a mandate to remit all charges and provide updates, and we are also being audited,” she said.
In a call to Daily Guardian, Penarañda said that they will release a full statement with their figures soon.
In a statement posted on its website, the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (Philreca) said that before the order on suspending the collection of the FIT-All was released on April 15, rural utilities have already printed and distributed their customers’ bills.
Ileco III is a member of Philreca.
“Most if not all statements reflected the collection of the FIT-All. Note that FIT-All charges suspension as stated in the April advisory is not indefinite (i.e., not suspended until further notice). For reference, the April 15 advisory states: ‘Item 9 – The collection of the FIT-ALL from electricity consumers is suspended for another billing period to be implemented on the next electricity bill to be issued by the collection agents’,” it added.
The advisory on UCEC suspension for May (which was “suspended until further notice”) was released on May 22, which means that the May billing statement has been printed, released, and distributed already.
“For succeeding billing periods (June onwards), electric cooperatives heeded to the call of ERC regarding the suspension of collection of UC-EC charges.”
The group urged the ERC to consult with the stakeholders involved for effective implementation of similar orders in the future.
“The timing of the release of the Advisories makes it impossible to implement the order on the billing period being asked for by the Commission. This only adds to the confusion of our member-consumer-owners.”
Philreca also said that “FIT-All and UCEC are pass-on charges, and not a single centavo is retained with the electric cooperatives.
“We cannot use this collection in our operations as ECs are merely collecting agents. As compliance to ERC Advisories (‘Actual payments received by the DUs are still required to be immediately remitted proportionately to the concerned entities’), ECs have remitted such collections to the appropriate agencies. ERC should order the concerned agencies to refund the collected charges and make appropriate arrangement with the Distribution Utilities on how to refund the same to the consumers.”