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Laban Konsyumer Inc. lauded the House Committee on Energy in the creation of the proposed office of People’s Counsel. Under the bill to strengthen the Energy Regulatory Commission, it shall be the duty of the People’s Counsel to represent and appear for the public before the ERC in every case involving consumer interest.  In all rate cases, the ERC shall direct the applicant to furnish the People’s Counsel with copies of the application and all ERC Orders. The People’s Counsel shall be appointed by the President of the Philippines  and shall have such number of employees as may be necessary to perform their functions. Under the bill, the People’s Counsel shall be under the administrative supervision of the Department of Trade and Industry. NPC President Pio Benavidez asked the Committee why the People’s Counsel should be placed under the DTI while Atty Vic Dimagiba of LKI proposed that the People’s Counsel be an independent office similar to ERC.

LKI expressed appreciation to the House Energy Committee in empowering consumer rights in ERC. In the proposed reconstitution of ERC, any of the 5 members of the ERC coming from different professional disciplines “shall come from the consumer sector “ .

The proposed bill is a substitute version of various bills on the abolition or  strengthening or  reorganization of ERC and  introduced by Reps. Velasco, the House Energy Committee Chair; Uybarreta, the TWG Chairman;  Alvarez, Gatchalian, Sambar, and Velarde ,Jr.  A counterpart bill is pending with the Senate Committee on Energy chaired by Sen. Win Gatchalian. 

Meantime, LKI had written the ERC Chairperson proposing changes in ensuring consumers right to timely and accurate information on power rates. The letter dated January 27, 2019 reads as follows: 

“We started the year on good note for the consumers as the total power rate bills were reduced for the major charges.   The generation charges went down by 0.3911 /kWh and system loss by 0.0274/kwh. On the other hand, transmission charges increased by 0.127/kwh.  

Under current guidelines of the Commission, these major charges are governed by rate adjustment mechanism that are adjusted monthly by the generation companies and the NGCP and are billed to the DUs.  Then every three (3) years, the DUs ask the ERC to confirm and review whether the monthly computations are correct. 

Under this context, we propose that the Commission conducts the review on real time and inform the consumers that the adjustments are in compliance of the rate adjustment mechanism guidelines. The three (3) year period is too long and hardly will the consumers feel the advantages of any overbilling as they will be offset by under billing as is usual in any post audit activity. 

The greater transparency and sharing of information to the consumers by the Commission is very important. We observed that the Manila Electric Company or Merico conduct a monthly briefing on power rates, but we hardly hear the Commission,  the NGCP , the spot market operator and the generating plants inform consumers of their power rates.  We sincerely propose that the Commission introduce meaningful changes on ensuring the consumers right to accurate and timely information on matters relating to power rate. “

LKI explained that if not for the transmission charge of residential customers increasing by P0.1210 per kWh this month due to higher NGCP Ancillary Service Charges, the decrease in over power bills would have been higher. Transmission charge was the main component that increased. The group believes that NGCP should do its part in explaining to the public their rate increases.

LKI stated “first of all, we believe that the NGCP should proactively communicate the changes in their rates. The consumers deserve to know the reasons and explanations behind these rate increases by the NGCP. They should put more effort into communicating and in transparency.”

Dimagiba noticed that “yes, there are some updates posted on the NGCP bulletin in their website, but these are always posted too late. We need the information at least on a monthly basis. As consumers, we deserve the right to know and understand the rate increases of NGCP. NGCP should follow the example of the distribution utility and reach out to the public to empower them with information and understanding of what goes into their electric bills.”

Finally, in the  Senate Committee on Energy hearing yesterday , January 28, 2019,  on  HB 8719 granting a franchise to Solar Power Para sa Bayan Inc., LKI cited 2 basic rights of the consumers that the Committee should consider, namely , the access to basic services like electricty and the need for a fair and reasonable power rate . Dimagiba of LKI stated that the Committee should resolve the issue of legality and violation of the Constitution of the franchise .