July 19, 2024

It’s a matter of nomenclature, but the board of directors (BOD) of the Benguet Electric Cooperative found the term “estimate” printed on the consumers’ electric bills confusing rather than encouraging.

The electric cooperative, deprived of actual meter reading in March and early part of April due to the coronavirus disease-2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, computed the electric bills by taking the average of the account owner’s actual consumption in December last year and in January and February.

The scheme was used since under meter reading rules, distribution utilities must read once in 30 days the meters of consumers. The bills issued bore the words “estimate.” 

However, the BOD expressed displeasure over the term, saying that “estimate” does not necessarily capture the mechanics of computing power consumption by averaging.

The directors said they were bombarded with complaints from consumers who assailed the electric cooperative of simply estimating the power consumption instead of going on field to read the meters.

“There are consumers who think that we merely guessed the amount we billed them because that’s the way they understand the term estimate,” said BOD president Esteban Somngi. “They believe that their bills are not accurate.”

On May 26, the BOD approved a resolution asking the Philreca Party-list to ask the Energy Regulatory Commission to amend the provision on estimated billing in the Distribution Services and Open Access Rules (DSOAR) that mandates distribution utilities to print the word “estimate” in power bills that used averaging.

Philreca is one of the four party-lists that represent the interest of electric cooperatives. The three others are Recoboda, Ako Padayon, and Apec.

The DSOAR was issued by the Energy Regulatory Commission to govern the way distribution utilities conduct their meter reading. The rules allow the use of averaging when no actual reading can be done due to a force majeure or any event beyond the control of the utilities.

Due to the enhanced community quarantine in March and April, electric coops, like Beneco, did not send their meter readers on field to read electric meters.

Sec. 3.5.4 of the DSOAR states: “The distribution utility shall print the word “estimate” on each bill which is based on estimated usage.”

“We, who are connected with the power industry, are aware what estimated billing is all about but our member-consumers view the term differently and literally. They cannot avoid but think that we might have just guessed the bills,” Somngi said.

Beneco’s consumer welfare and community relations offices have earlier launched a massive information drive through Facebook, website, text messaging, radio announcements, and calls to explain to consumers about estimated billing.

Somngi, however, echoed the directors’ observation that there are still those who are confused about the word estimate.

“To solve the confusion, the DSOAR must be amended and the term ‘estimate’ on the power bills must be replaced with ‘average’ or ‘averaged billing’,” he said. – Delmar O. Cariño