Power bill subsidy only for those that consume 20-kWh or less

The Board of Directors of the First Catanduanes Electric Cooperative, Inc. (FICELCO) is considering the grant of a power bill subsidy to all residential consumers, instead of just the so-called “lifeline” users, or those that consume 20 kilowatt-hours per month or less.

The Board is set to have a special meeting this week to finalize its own guidelines on the subsidy.

General Manager Engr. Raul V. Zafe had submitted to the Board a proposal on the cooperative’s joining the electricity subsidy program dubbed as “Pantawid Liwanag” and targeted at poor Filipino power consumers whose income and livelihood have been sharply reduced by the COVID-19 crisis.

GM Zafe, however, clarified that only those consuming 20 kWh or less per month will be covered by the grant, pursuant to the 2017 decision of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) on the lifeline rate and level for marginalized residential customers.

He told the Tribune in an interview last Thursday (April 16, 2020) that the cooperative is now finalizing the list of the lifeline consumers who will be covered by the program.

GM Zafe has proposed the allocation of P2.4 million for the power subsidy to be divided among the lifeline consumers, as the fund will not be enough to cover the electricity charges of the beneficiaries for the March and April billing periods.

Zafe said that the funds will come from the cooperative’s savings from the elections for directors in five districts and the Annual General Membership Assembly (AGMA) in September that were deferred by the National Electrification Administration (NEA) in view of the pandemic.

Included in the deferment as far as FICELCO is concerned are the district elections in District II (Bato, set on June 13; District III (San Andres) on July 4; District IV (San Miguel) on July 11; District V (Virac) on July 18; and District VI (Caramoran-Pandan) on July 25.

This means that Directors Rodulfo B. Vargas Jr. of Bato, Julian S. Soneja of San Andres, Marilyn T. Robles of San Miguel, and Arsenia G. Bernacer of Pandan-Caramoran will stay on in a holdover capacity until the state of calamity if lifted.

In a memorandum dated April 14, 2020, NEA Administrator Edgardo Masongsong directed cooperatives to realign the budget already appropriated for the deferred district elections and the cancelled AGMA into working capital requirements necessary to sustain their operations and for the “Pantawid” program.

GM Zafe disclosed that while some consumers have paid their bills for the March billing period, the amount the cooperative collected would not be enough to sustain its operations and ensure adequate electric service once the ECQ is lifted.

Last week, FICELCO received an advisory on the “Pantawid Liwanag” program from the Philippine Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, Inc. (PHILRECA), which initiated it as a corporate social responsibility program aligned with the government’s efforts to curb the socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the poorest of the poor.

This is in addition to the steps already taken by the power distribution utilities, such as the 30-day payment extension to electricity consumers and the cancellation of surcharges on late payments and power disconnections for consumers who failed to pay on time.

Over 90 cooperatives in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao have implemented the 30-day grace period for consumers to settle their electricity bills while 80 have agreed to adopt the Pantawid program.

PHILRECA requested the ECs to provide data on the estimated total number of lifeline consumers, total power consumption in kWh and in pesos, and the equivalent or total amount to be shouldered by the cooperative for the program.

On the other hand, for non-lifeline consumers, the ERC directed that the cumulative amount of electricity bills that were supposed to have fallen due within the ECQ shall be amortized in four (4) equal monthly installments, payable in the four (4) succeeding billing months following the end of the ECQ.

This shall be reflected as a separate item in the electricity bills on those succeeding months, provided that the first billing due date following the ECQ shall be no earlier than May 15, 2020, it stated.

The Commission also encouraged customers who have the ability to pay to settle their bills within the original due date to help manage the cash flow in the energy supply chain and ensure the continuous supply of electricity.

It authorized distribution utilities to adopt incentive schemes to encourage early payment of the deferred amount by customers who are able to settle ahead of the four (4) months.

The same ERC advisory ordered power suppliers such as the National Power Corporation (NPC) and the Sunwest Water & Electric Co. (SUWECO) to extend the same deferred payment scheme to electric cooperatives.

In October and November 2019, SUWECO was collected P28.2 million and P32.7 million, respectively, for the electricity it supplied to FICELCO.

For the same two periods, the cooperative paid NPC P7.6 million and P3.5 million for the power it generated for the Catanduanes grid, including Palumbanes island.

Power bills for the ECQ period are expected to be about 30% lower due to the closure of big businesses and schools such as the two malls and the Catanduanes State University (CSU).

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