BENECO backs review of law for lifeline raters

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The Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) stands on four squares behind moves to review the provisions of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) granting subsidy to lifeline consumers of electricity.

The electric cooperative’s Board of Directors on Wednesday said there is logic to the observation that there could be consumer accounts that are unfairly benefitting from the subsidized power rates intended to help indigent consumers.

The EPIRA or Republic Act 9136 defines lifeline rate as the subsidized rate given to marginalized or low-income captive market end-users who cannot afford to pay at full cost.

The law called for the establishment of a socialized pricing mechanism by giving discounts for certain thresholds of electricity consumption as approved by the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

The lifeline rate, however, is subsidized by consumers whose power consumption is above the approved thresholds.

BENECO’s lifeline rates provide a 50 percent discount on the bills of consumers using 20 kilowatt hour (kWh) a month; 40 percent for 21 to 25 kWh; 30 percent for 26 to 30 kWh; 20 percent from 31 to 35 kWh; 10 percent for 36 to 40 kWh and 5 for 41 to 45 kWh.

Lawyer Esteban Somngi, board president, said BENECO could be in the same boat as other distribution utilities whose lifeline raters included those who are not really indigent, echoing what Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian called as “unplugged leaks” in the application of the lifeline rate subsidy.

Gatchalian, who has filed a bill to extend the subsidy system for another 20 years, said roughly P937 million in subsidies went to non-marginalized consumers in 2018 alone.

He said this is because there were rest houses and apartments in residential towers that got discounts since they are rarely occupied.

Somngi said Gatchalian’s call for a review is timely since the subsidy must really benefit indigent consumers who are suffering a lot due to the pandemic.

Melchor Licoben, BENECO general manager, also welcomed the review since he said Baguio City hosts a lot of vacation houses and it is highly possible that their registered power consumption is within the thresholds of the lifeline rate.

BENECO has a total of 201,378 consumer accounts of which 73,550 or 36.5 percent are lifeline raters. By Delmar Carino

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