Coronavirus in Chile

Electricity Bills Peak Amid Pandemic

SANTIAGO – The last few weeks, complaints about inordinately high electricity bills have surged. Although some might be using more electricity because they are at home more due to quarantine measures, customers argue that the way their bills have increased is out of control. Energy company ENEL, which received most of these complaints, claims the disconnect is because their meter-readers have not been allowed out to do their jobs, so current bills reflect an averaging, not actual usage.

Hundreds in Chile have taken to social media in the last few weeks to complain about their electricity bills. They say their bills have inexplicably increasing exponentially since the coronavirus outbreak – in some cases, they have doubled or even tripled.

According to ENEL, responsible for electricity in 33 districts in the Metropolitan Region, there is an explanation for the increased bills. Their personnel are no longer able to go to home to home to read the meters because of quarantine measures in the region. As a result, the monthly amount is calculated by taking the average of electricity use in the last six months. According to ENEL, people are also using more electricity as entire families are forced to stay at home during the pandemic.

In a statement, the energy company said that the billed amounts “may not be sufficiently representative of the actual consumption of the period without reading.” If customers consumed more energy than they are paying for, ENEL said it will charge the balance due within five months. If a customer consumed less energy, ENEL assured it will issue a refund or credit.

The Superintendence of Electricity and Fuel (SEC), the authority in charge of overseeing energy companies, said it had received over 35,000 complaints regarding charges and billing since the start of the outbreak. According to Luis Avila Bravo, the Superintendent of Electricity and Fuel, the energy companies have not been proactive enough in communicating with customers. “They have not been clear and proactive in explaining the adjustments they are making once they return to the face-to-face reading,” Avila Bravo said.

According to the SEC, the infamous announcement “corte en tramité” or “service cut in progress” can no longer be used as a threat by energy companies. So far, over 110,000 families in Chile have opted for an emergency plan from the government which allows them to delay payment of basic services without risking a cut of these services. However, when the pandemic is over, these families will have to pay their bills to the corresponding companies.

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