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BAGUIO CITY – It is a matter of nomenclature but the board of directors of the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) found the term “estimate” printed in the consumers’ electric bills confusing rather than encouraging.
The electric cooperative, deprived of actual meter reading in March and early part of April due to the COVID 19 pandemic, computed the electric bills of consumers through estimated billing by taking the average of the actual consumption of the account owners in Dec. last year and January and February this year.
The scheme was used since under meter reading rules, distribution utilities must read once in 30 days the meters of consumers. The bills issued bore the words “estimate” in bold letters.
However, the Beneco directors expressed displeasure over the term, saying that the term “estimate” does not necessarily capture the mechanics of computing power consumption by averaging.
The directors said they were bombarded with a lot of complaints from consumers who assailed the electric cooperative of simply estimating the power consumption instead of going on field to read the registered meters.
“There are consumers who think that we merely guessed the figures we billed them because that is the way they understand the term estimate,” lawyer Esteban Somngi, board president said. “They believe that their bills are not accurate,” he said.
On May 26, the board of directors approved a resolution asking the Philreca partylist to ask the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to amend the provision on estimated billing in the Distribution Services and Open Access Rules (DSOAR) that mandates distribution utilities to print the word “estimate” in power bills that used averaging.
Philreca is one of the four party-lists in the lower house that represent the interest of electric cooperatives. The three others are Recoboda, Ako Padayon and Apec.
The DSOAR was issued by the Energy Regulatory Commission to govern the way distribution utilities conduct their meter reading. The said rules allow the use of averaging when no actual reading can be done due to a force majeure or any event beyond the control of the utilities.
The government’s order for an enhanced community quarantine in March and April disabled the task of electric cooperatives, like Beneco, to send their meter readers on field to personally and actually read individual electric meters.
Sec. 3.5.4 of the DSOAR says “the distribution utility shall print the word estimate on each bill which is based on estimated usage.”
“We who are connected with the power industry are aware of what estimated billing is all about but our member consumers view the term differently and literally. They cannot avoid but think that we might have just guessed the bills,” Somngi said.
Beneco’s consumer welfare office and community relations office have earlier launched a massive information drive through Facebook, website, text messaging, radio announcements, and calls to explain to consumers about estimated billing.
Somngi, however, echoed the directors’ observation that there are still those who are confused about the word estimate. “To solve the confusion, the DSOAR must be amended and the term estimate printed on power bills must be replaced with average or averaged billing,” he said.
By Delmar Cariño