Surigaonons lash at power coop for spike in electric bills

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 April) – Irate consumers flooded the Facebook site of the electric cooperative here over the past few days because of the steep surge of electricity bills while the daily brownouts lasting three to four hours persist.

Juanita O. Sering, customer service department head of the Surigao del Norte Electric Cooperative (SURNECO), said the cause of the increase is due to the hike in generation charges from the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation (PSALM) and Therma Marine Inc. (TMI).

She said SURNECO’s rate per kilowatt hour at P8 remains while generation charges from power producers have increased.

“The charges coming from TMI have already increased (which explains the increase) but our rates continue to remain the same,” Sering said.

Engr. Jorven R. Villafranca, SURNECO systems analyst, explained to MindaNews that another reason for the higher generation charges is due to the increase in the “contracted power supply” the cooperative bought from TMI.

He said starting this year, SURNECO had to increase the power it buys from the Aboitiz-owned power barge from five to six megawatts to help address the local deficiency of 10 MW. SURNECO originally wanted to get 8 MW from TMI but one of the latter’s power barges broke down last month, he added.

Surigao del Norte has a total peak demand of 26 MW but for the month of April, the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) can only serve 10.33 MW and Therma Marine, 6 MW.

A February billing from TMI showed SURNECO will pay P44.343 million for the 6 MW it supplies to the Surigao del Norte area. NGCP, although supplying electricity much more than TMI, is charging SURNECO much less, only P40 million for the same period.

Sering said SURNECO has not increased its basic charges as it has to go through a public consultation and the approval of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).

The electric cooperative also had to increase its load nomination from TMI because of the failure of Napocor to supply the entire local power demand.

In its Facebook account “Surneco Surigao,” Facebook user Hajo Bago asked why the electric bill increased despite the frequent brownouts: “We’re not even using many appliances, like the refrigerator. Why the additional fees when these didn’t pass through consultation? Any time you can increase your rates without our knowledge. Is this still democracy?”

Bryan Ferol Calang, on the other hand, said Friday their participation in the Earth Hour was already too much. “We lost power this morning, and it’s now dark and we still don’t have electricity,” he added.

Chirry Lyn Arayan complained why her bill has doubled despite the frequent brownouts. She said she only has a TV, a small ceiling fan, and a fluorescent lamp that she uses only at night.

The online complaints did not get any responses from the electric cooperative.

Its public relations department said it is still finalizing strategies to make the issue more easily understood by the already irate public.

Sering said they already added more support to their corporate service department to accommodate complaints from customers. She added that those with increased electricity bills are “those who have appliances.”

She said once the complaint forms are filed, the electric cooperative will check the meter again. But “if there is really a problem then we can calibrate it,” she added.

The complaints started coming when SURNECO released its billing last Tuesday.

A sample of a consumer ledger’s form showed a resident’s power consumption for three months: for the February consumption, usage totaled 371 KWH with an equivalent bill of P2,884.49; March dropped to 253.1 KWH with a bill of P2,060.46; April increased to 346 KWH with a total monthly bill of P3,059.41. (Vanessa L. Almeda / MindaNews)