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JPS writes off $100m of electricity bills

Published:Sunday | February 7, 2016 | 2:00 AMMcPherse Thompson
Kelly Tomblin, president and CEO of JPS.

Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) said it wrote off $100 million in debt owed by residential and commercial customers for electricity under its year-end amnesty programme.

It offered customers the opportunity to start the new year at least partially debt free.

The power utility also said it continues to work with the Government, through the Ministry of Finance, to ensure payment for street lights on a timely basis.

In introducing the amnesty, which ran from November to December 2015, JPS said it had identified critical cases where some of its customers' debts to the light and power provider had accumulated so significantly over time that they had been classified as bad debt.

However, for customers who wanted to regularise their accounts and in some cases restore their electricity, JPS gave residential rate 10 and commercial rate 20 customers an opportunity to negotiate up to 70 per cent debt forgiveness.

Persons qualified to apply were those owing in excess of $50,000 at August 2015 and had their service disconnected; as well as residential and small commercial customers who owed more than $100,000 up to August, but whose accounts were still active.

Last Friday, JPS President and Chief Executive Officer Kelly Tomblin, addressing a media briefing at the company's offices in New Kingston, said more than 1,000 account holders benefited from the amnesty.

STREET LIGHT REPAIRS ONGOING

As for the issue of defective street lights, Tomblin said repairs were ongoing, while acknowledging that the utility got daily complaints.

JPS has about 100,000 street lights and last year the company replaced 27,700 of them, an average of 514 per week.

"We are replacing street lights, hundreds and hundreds every week, so it's not that JPS isn't aware...", she said.

Against that background, Tomblin said: "There are two things that are going on that we have to fix.

"We are working with the Government right now to find a way for us to get paid more promptly," she said. "I have a commitment by the minister of finance. We work with him all the time. We all know that we have a lot of different obligations and a lot of different challenges to meet and we do know today that we are working on solutions to run our street lights on, for instance, LED."

At the same time, she said the company has to be careful how much it invests in the current solution "if we are going to have this three to four year plan to replace them."

She acknowledged the issue is, for some, one of security, but said the street light problem is compounded by theft.

"With the level of electricity theft, we will never have first-class street lights ... we cannot have street lights operating if we have a couple of hundred people stealing," the utility boss said.

JPS is manager of the national grid and monopoly distributor of electricity supplies. The utility collects around $100 billion per year in billings.

mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com