MABALACAT CITY — Finding “extremely incredible” the justification of the Pampanga Electric Cooperative 2 (Pelco 2) that the meteoric rise in their bills last May was mainly due to usage, a group of consumers has asked reelected 1st District Rep. Carmelo “Jon” Lazatin II to initiate legislation granting the Angeles Electric Corp. (AEC) franchise in their area to dismantle the monopoly of Pelco 2.
“We beg Mr. Lazatin to please consider passing legislation that would give us consumers needed relief from Pelco 2 monopocy,” said the informal consumers’ group Pelco2-Nay in a statement.
Pelco 2 consumers burned their Facebook accounts with fiery complaints against their electricity bills last May, with many saying their charges shot up from two to even tens of thousand times over their usual monthly bills.
In a statement also posted on Facebook, Pelco 2 instead blamed the consumers themselves for using cooling devices more than usual arising from hot summer weather. It also blamed the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM) which was launched by the Department of Energy way back in 2006, ironically as a means to bring down the cost of electricity.
Pelco2-Nay said Pelco 2’s explanations “bordered on bad fairy tale,” especially in cases where bills jumped from P3,000 to about P84,000 or, at least in one case, to P860,000. Another is the case of an empty household for which a neighbor used to pay power meter maintenance fee of only P20 monthly, but was charged P4,000 in May.
“These instances, coupled with thousands finding the rise in their bills incredible, should at least have driven Pelco 2 management to investigate. But the management just stood pat on its incredible position,” Pelco2-Nay said.
The group said that while power usage usually increases during summer, “the bills last May seemed to have implied that consumers multiplied twice, thrice or even a hundredfold the number of their household appliances and used them simultaneously last May.”
“It was a case of monopoly arrogance and insensitivity. We have heard of some families going into debt so as to pay their bills despite their objections to their huge bills just so as to avoid their electricity being cut off after payment deadline,” it said.
Pelco2-Nay said its members will meet with Lazatin to urge him to file a bill dismantling Pelco 2 monopoly in their areas and allow AEC as option for consumers. “This would not be the first time that people of Mabalacat, especially Barangay Dau which is very commercial, to consider AEC for their power supply,” the group said, noting that a few years ago, a similar proposal was considered but failed to prosper.
Pelco 2 also distributes power to the towns of Porac, Santa Rita, Bacolor, Lubao, Guagua, and Sasmuan. Mabalacat, however, is nearest Angeles City which is covered by AEC.
The circulation of electricity to end-users is a controlled common carrier business requiring a national franchise. The power to grant national franchises is exclusively vested to the Congress of the Philippines. Distribution of electric power to all end-users or consumers of electricity may be handled by private distribution utilities, cooperatives, local government units presently undertaking this function and other duly authorized entities, under the regulation of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
In 2014, the Manila Electric Co., the biggest electricity retailer, acquired a 60-percent stake in Pelco 2 “to help improve power distribution in Pampanga province.”
Meralco signed a shareholders’ agreement with Comstech Integration Alliance Inc. formalizing the utility’s investment. Meralco said in a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange it agreed to subscribe to new shares to be issued by Comstech amounting to P300 million, divided into three million shares with a par value of P100 apiece. The shares represent 60 percent of the authorized capital stock of Comstech. Comstech signed a contract to manage and operate Pelco 2 in February last year.
Also, in that year, Pelco 2 consumers complained of rise in their electric bills.
Records of the National Electrification Administration (NEA) show that the power distribution sector is composed of 119 electric cooperatives, 16 privately owned utilities and six local government-owned utilities as of 2009. These distribution utilities may acquire electricity from generation companies or the WESM, when certified as the distribution of electricity requires a national franchise, for distribution to residential, commercial, industrial and other users.
NEA, the government agency in charge of implementing programs to reinforce the technical capability and financial viability of rural electric cooperatives, may act as guarantor for purchases of electricity in the WESM by any electric cooperative or small distribution utility to support their credit standing.