Meralco commits to expand meter reading amid consumer complaints

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 22) — Major power distributor Meralco on Friday committed to expand meter reading among all its customers to reflect adjustments in the June billing statement.

In an online Joint Congressional Energy Commission hearing, Victor Genuino, Meralco first vice president and head of customer retail services and corporate communications, said less than one percent of residential bills received in May were based on actual meter reading.

"May mga area po na hindi pa namin napapasukan para mag meter read dahil strikto yung area or still under local lockdown... We will strive para basahan itong mga metro in June and adjustments in the May bill will be reflected in the June bill," Genuino said.

[Translation: There are areas where we have not conducted meter reading yet because of strict measures or they are still under local lockdown... We will strive to read the meters in June and adjustments in the May bill will be reflected in the June bill.]

"Wala pa hong one percent ang residential ho na nabasahan natin nung Abril (We read the meter of less than one percent of residential accounts)," Genuino also said. Meralco has a total of 6.6 million customers, majority of which are households.

Geminio explained that personnel began actual meter reading on April 11, starting off with commercial and industrial customers, then on to the households on the latter part of the month.

"We made sure that all of the employees that we sent out to do meter reading were equipped and armed with all the proper PPEs (personal protective equipment)," he said. 

Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Velasco questioned why Meralco kept saying the bills received in May were based on actual kilowatt-per hour (kwh) consumption, when only one percent of the households were visited.

READ: Meralco explains high electricity bills for May

"I think you have a lot of explaining to do kasi yung nameter read niyo lang is less than 1 percent," Velasco said. He added that Meralco should be able to assure consumers that they are billed "fairly and properly."

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian backed Velasco's statement and urged Meralco to come up with a separate billing that will be "very clear" to the consumers.

Meralco said it will comply with the directives of the Department of Energy and the Energy Regulatory Commission, which directed all power distributors to issue new electricity bills to reflect actual meter readings. Households with monthly consumption of 200 kWh and below in February 2020 are entitled to six monthly installments, while others can make staggered payments within four months.

Meralco also committed to send consumers "very specific letters explaining" what happened to their bills and to promptly respond to all queries.

"We apologize to our customers for any inconvenience and confusion that our March to May bills may have caused. We assure all our customers that they will pay only the equivalent amount of actual consumption," said Jose Ronald Valles, Meralco regulatory affairs head.

The Energy department is looking into reports of sudden spike in Meralco billings, and some have taken to social media to air their concerns.

At one point in the five-hour hearing, Genuino showed how the bills were computed, noting that some bills were underestimated while others were overestimated.

He said those with high consumption during the quarantine period or from March to May received bills that charged "lower than actual consumption" while those with low to no consumption at all had overestimated bills since these were estimated based on the average daily consumption from December 2019, January 2020, and February 2020 -- months when customers typically consumed less electricity due to cooler weather.

"If the March/April bills are paid, Meralco will refund the overpayment of these bills or we can credit it to future bills of the customers," Genuino said.

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi explained that when power distribution companies are unable to conduct meter reading, they can base the consumers' bills on the previous billing. This is the case as the government enforced lockdown measures across the country to prevent further spread of the coronavirus disease.