By Myrna M. Velasco
The country’s distribution utilities (DUs) have collected as much as P26.28 billion worth of bill deposits from customers as of January this year, prompting the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) to device appropriate action to protect electric consumers.
Bill deposits are the total amount collected from consumers which aim to secure the payment of electricity bills for new and/or additional service and from disconnected consumers who were previously not subject to bill deposits.
It is a one-time payment based on a consumer’s estimated monthly consumption. DUs also automatically forfeit the deposit in case the consumer defaults on his monthly payment.
Of the 120 electric cooperatives (ECs) and more than 20 private DUs nationwide, the regulatory body noted that only 10 power utilities have opted not to collect bill deposits.
Within Luzon grid, the ECs that were able to waive bill deposit collections include Benguet Electric Cooperative Inc. (BENECO); Lubang Island Electric Cooperative Inc. (LUBELCO); Nueva Vizcaya Electric Cooperative Inc. (NUVELCO); Oriental Mindoro Electric Cooperative Inc. (ORMECO); and Quirino Electric Cooperative Inc. (QUIRELCO).
For Visayas and Mindanao, the electric cooperatives not passing on bill deposit as added cost to customers are Cebu I Electric Cooperative Inc. (CEBECO I); Bantayan Electric Cooperative Inc. (BANELCO); Lanao del Norte Electric Cooperative Inc. (LANECO); Misamis Occidental II Electric Cooperative Inc. (MOELCI II); and Lanao del Sur Electric Cooperative Inc.
ERC chairperson Agnes T. Devanadera said they prefer that ECs and private DUs that collect bill deposits to emulate the other power utilities in sparing consumers from the bill deposit charges.
The ERC chief stressed they are pleased with these ECs “for exerting efforts to reduce their consumers’ electricity bill by not charging and collecting bill deposits.”
By removing the bill deposits, Devanadera said consumers will have increased purchasing power and could re-allocate such charges to other components in the family budget.
Citing the example set by the 10 power utilities, Devanadera has encouraged the other DUs to “forego the charging of bill deposit, considering that there is no additional cost incurred and accrued to them.”
If these DUs cannot give up the bill deposit payments, Devanadera opined, “It is but fair and appropriate that the customers be entitled to some interest.” ERC is now sorting out this interest-bearing bill deposit plan.
The industry regulator emphasized that it is revisiting its rules on bill deposit payments to protect the interest of the country’s electricity consumers.
There had been previous demands lodged with the ERC to order the refund of the consumers’ bill deposits – and the main target of that petition is the country’s biggest power utility Manila Electric Company.