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Power for the poor - JPS proposes plan to give cheaper utilities to residents of low-income communities

Published:Monday | April 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM

 Arthur Hall, Senior News Editor

Struggling to deal with the problem of electricity theft, the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) is proposing a scheme that could see residents of depressed communities having access to utilities for a small fee.

The proposal is included in the application for new non-fuel tariff rates, which the JPS submitted to the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) last Monday, and which forms part of efforts by the company to reduce the US$7.5 million the company lost to electricity theft last year.

In the proposal, the JPS has outlined what it describes as an integrated Community Renewal Programme in which it would work with the National Water Commission and government agencies to improve services to low-income communities islandwide.

The programme would work in an integrated way that would emphasise the responsibility of residents and payment as the quid pro quo for service upliftment.

"The JPS position is that Jamaica needs to move beyond an 'enforcement' approach to the problem of service theft and non-payment to one which emphasises a social dimension in addressing a problem that is primarily socio-economic in nature," said the company in its proposal to the OUR.

Under the programme, residents of these communities would be charged rates that are less than the full cost of providing service.

"JPS is of the view that charging lower tariffs can increase collection rates and overall revenues from these communities. It also allows communities to establish the habit of paying utility bills, which they will continue as tariffs rise," said the company.

According to the JPS, the programme would also offer improved payment options and "transitional community-upliftment tariffs".

Gradually increased

"These tariffs would be discounted and gradually increased as services levels increase and customers' ability to pay increases.

"Additionally, there would not be any initial connection charge. Instead, customers would be able to pay for the cost of connection in instalments, added on to their monthly bills."

The light and power company is proposing that customers who could not make payments would not be automatically disconnected.

"Instead, they will be offered credit arrangements with interest. Secondly, prepayment meters can be provided as a means of helping persons to manage their budget more efficiently and to 'pay as they go', avoiding large monthly bills at the end of each month, which they did not properly budget to address."

The prepaid meter is expected to make it easier for customers to pay for a small amount of electricity at a time, avoiding a large bill at the end of the month.

The OUR has 90 days to make a determination on the JPS tariff review request, with members of the public having an opportunity to comment on the proposals, starting at the Ardenne High School in St Andrew today.