Gary Spaulding, Senior Staff Reporter
The Jamaica Public Service (JPS) seems to be in the dark on the number of street lights that are malfunctioning, and the millions of dollars in outstanding arrears accumulated by the parish councils which are responsible for these bills.
While some residents are clamouring for lights on darkened streets, others are complaining that some in well-lit areas are never turned off, not even in the days.
The Sunday Gleaner carried out a check in Mona, St Andrew, after concerns were raised by residents there of streets lights being on throughout the day, which frequently are not noticed under the glare of the sun.
In just one area, five were located on Garden Boulevard - from Violet Avenue to where Garden Boulevard joins Mona Road; three were seen on Wellington Drive; one on Mona Road near the US Embassy on Old Hope Road; another on Mona Road just beyond the hockey playing field; one at the intersection of Gerbera Drive and Gardenia; and one on Gardenia itself.
According to a female resident, a lot of the sensors do not seem to be functioning effectively. "On any morning, one can see several lights still on when it is bright enough for them to be off like the others in close proximity - so here again, unnecessary electricity is being consumed and the taxpayers are paying while JPS is smiling all the way to the bank."
Communications director at the JPS, Winsome Callum, admitted that the light and power company receives frequent reports about malfunctioning street lights.
"It clearly is a malfunctioning issue," Callum told The Sunday Gleaner. She said JPS has in place a response process where once they are reported, the technical people seek to address them, within a specified time.
"We get reports every single day about malfunctioning street lights which is why it is difficult to respond to a general statement. There is a response mechanism where once the street lights are reported, they are logged and assigned, but I am not in a position to say what percentage are addressed within a prescribed period".
Asked what was the mode of payments, Callum said a formula is used to calculate the amount due to be paid. "That formula assumes that a percentage of the street lights would be malfunctioning at that point in time."
However, she declined to state whether the parish councils were honouring their obligations. "That is something that I would not want to get into. It would not be appropriate for me to discuss details of their accounts," she told The Sunday Gleaner. "This is a customer, we have a relationship with the Ministry of Local Government."
When pressed, Callum admitted that there were outstanding amounts owing. "There is money owed, I can tell you that but I prefer not to go into specifics."
In a subsequent document, the JPS stated street lights are billed each month on the assumption that they work for 12 hours each day, that is, the dusk to dawn period as defined by the Meteorological Office.
The company said the billing rate for street lights is set based on an assumed outage rate of one per cent (based on an average life of 4 years and an expected repair turnaround time of 14 days).
"Day-burning lamps do not add a cost burden to the customers (Parish Councils), as they are only charged for the fixed 12 hours dusk to dawn burn of the lamps," the document that was emailed to The Sunday Gleaner asserted.
"Day-burning lamps indicate a failed/malfunctioning photocell. The photocells control the on/off function and are designed to fail in the "safe mode" that is to stay on, rather than to lose the service of the lamp completely."
Nevertheless, JPS said it attempts to replace these photocells as soon as possible to reduce energy loss.
Said Callum: "As indicated, I cannot get into the details of arrears owed by the government in relation to street lights, but I can confirm that we do have some difficulty from time to time collecting funds owed for street lights. This, in turn, has a direct impact on our financial ability to replace bulbs and photocells on a timely basis."
She said the JPS has, however, maintained ongoing dialogue with the government and is confident that it would have a significant amount of those arrears resolved soon, which would provide it with resources to address the problem of malfunctioning street lights.