Beneco still on the way to recovery

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The financial engineering of electric cooperatives is not the typical debit and credit memo considering the complexity of the power industry that imposes regulatory compliances.

Thus, if the question is that “has Beneco recovered from the pandemic?” the answer is such recovery is still not that close to its desired level, said Melchor Licoben, BENECO OIC general manager.

Lockdown restrictions may have eased during the first quarter of the year but the conditions of limited business operating hours and customers to be served still continues to adversely impact on the revenues of the electric cooperative.

The pandemic struck hardest on the electric cooperative last year especially during the lockdown periods that saw a lot of business and commercial firms stopping their operations.

Licoben would often keep tab of the electric cooperative’s monthly revenue if the cash flow would suffice to pay the power bill it purchases from Team Phil., for distribution to member consumers.

Team is the generation company Beneco has contracted for a 20 year power supply agreement which will end in 2024.

In 2020, Beneco paid Team an average of P170 million every month for power supply alone which is almost 80 per cent of the electric cooperative’s average monthly sales in the amount of P212. 07 million for the same year.

Licoben said balancing the monthly books is indeed tough since the cash on hand must prioritize the payment of the power bill or the generator company might exercise its option to stop supplying Beneco’s power requirements.

“The recovery for an electric cooperative happens when the electric cooperative is assured that its monthly collection will be able to pay its power bill without compromising its other capital and operating expenses,” he said.

As of Dec., 2020, Beneco has 209,242 consumer accounts which are broken down as follows – 194,338 are residential consumers and 5,909 are commercial accounts.

Admittedly, the electric cooperative during the pandemic gained a marked increase in the bills paid by residential consumers but it likewise suffered a significant dent in the electricity consumed by its residential consumers.

Rocky Pallogan, non-network and revenue services department manager, said the bid of the electric cooperative to shore up its monthly collection has to give way to regulatory advisories issued by the Department of Energy (Doe) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (Erc).

“We had to implement the government’s directive not to impose disconnection on customers who fail to pay their bills on time and defer the collection of arrears and surcharges. We were also required to allow the consumers to pay their bills in installments or provide them a longer grace period to pay, “he said.

Under normal times, bills must be paid within ten days from receipt thereof and disconnection is effected after a month, Pallogan said.

“These periods including the imposition of arrears and surcharges would often force or encourage consumers to pay on time, thus ensuring Beneco a steady flow of revenue,” he said.

Licoben said Beneco is not against efforts of the government to help ease the burden on electricity consumers.

“But one needs to know how the electric cooperative runs it operations vis-à-vis its mandatory expenses in order to avert any disaster though the conditions at the moment are still from far full recovery,” he said.    By Delmar O. Carino

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