MINISTER of Science, Energy and Technology Daryl Vaz has flayed the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) for what he described as its poor handling of customer satisfaction issues and says he wants the firm to explain how it will compensate customers who suffered damage or loss of income from power outages.
Vaz also expressed disappointment with the 0.7 per cent average rate increase recently granted by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) to the JPS, which saw the majority of its customers paying more for electricity bills effective August 22.
In an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer on Thursday, Vaz said, while he understands that the OUR is the sole entity empowered by law to grant such increases, he feels strongly that the increase should not have been granted at this time, given that the JPS has failed to address several long-standing customer service-related issues.
“These issues include lengthy delays in adding new customers to the grid — which now number close to 100,000 residential customers — due to a shortage of necessary equipment and parts; persistent and unscheduled power outages, ranging between 18 and three hours, including the most recent occurrence two days ago where 10,000 customers were left without electricity,” said Vaz.
“The cost to the local economy and the severe inconvenience borne by thousands of Jamaicans due to a lack of electricity are totally unacceptable,” declared an obviously peeved Vaz.
He told the Observer that he is also displeased with the delays by the JPS in the relocation of 1,000 poles to facilitate major infrastructural development for the people of Jamaica.
“Despite numerous meetings, including my summoning the board of JPS in recent weeks, along with discussions with the company’s management and its shareholders, communicating the urgent need to address these issues, little has been done to address these and other long-standing concerns.
“It is within this context, as well as the waning confidence in the management of the JPS, that I will be making a number of requests of the JPS,” said Vaz.
Among those requests is that the management of the JPS presents a report to the Cabinet detailing how and when the customer satisfaction issues will be addressed.
Vaz has also indicated that he will request that, “The JPS provides a supply chain assessment report of its impact on the construction industry; and that it briefs the Cabinet on its plans and measures in place to ensure power stability as we move further into the hurricane season.”
According to Vaz, he also wants the JPS to provide a report on its actions to compensate its customers who may have suffered damage or loss of income due to long and/or unplanned power outages.
“It is through these requests that the people of Jamaica will move closer towards the achievement of the guaranteed uninterrupted and efficient service they deserve,” declared Vaz, who said he has also requested that JPS reviews the changes made recently to its customer service reporting and response mechanism to facilitate real-time response to reported power outages and customer complaints.
“I am fully aware of the concerns of the JPS regarding technical losses (electricity theft) which the Government is working with the company to reduce, but I sincerely hope this is not an attempt by the JPS to send a message to the Government,” added Vaz.
Marubeni Corporation of Japan and Korea East-West Power jointly own 80 per cent shares in the JPS with the Government of Jamaica and a small group of minority shareholders owning the remaining shares.
In justifying the latest rate increase to JPS, the OUR had underscored that the company’s annual review application was in keeping with the provisions of the Electricity Licence, 2016, which allows for the realignment of the company’s revenue targets each year against inflation and exchange rate movements, as well as its performance in the previous year.
The licence also provides for an extraordinary rate review in the event of any exceptional circumstances that have a significant impact on the electricity sector and/or JPS that were not considered or known at the five-year rate review two years ago.
“The OUR is an economic regulator that conducts rigorous assessment and analysis of submissions received for rate reviews. Its decisions are made from the outcomes of such assessments,” the regulator argued.
The rate increase came months after the OUR noted that JPS’s compliance report on its guaranteed standards performance indicated that 20,653 breaches had been committed during the January 2022 – March 2022 quarter, representing a six per cent increase compared with the preceding period.
“These breaches attracted compensatory payments of approximately $43.8 million, all of which were applied automatically to the affected customers’ accounts. Similar to the previous period, guaranteed standards regarding estimated bills (which restrict JPS from sending more than two consecutive estimates without a penalty), connection to supply (which prescribes the time within which JPS is to make a simple connection), and reconnection (which requires that JPS restores supply within 24 hours of payment of overdue amounts) accounted for the highest incidence of breaches,” said the OUR.