CCU commissioner defends utility backbilling

Customers are back-billed if utilities find that ratepayers' meters are damaged and found to be defective.

Consolidated Commission on Utilities member Simon Sanchez is defending the back-billing policy practiced by the island’s utilities.

In an interview with Andrea Pellacani on NewsTalk K57, Sanchez said it would be unfair if back-billing is abolished because that would mean that customers with defective meters would be subsidized by the rest of the ratepayers.

Senator Clynt Ridgell has introduced Bill No. 188-35 (COR) which seeks to prevent both the Guam Power Authority (GPA) and Guam Waterworks Authority (GWA) from back-billing its customers.

According to Ridgell, he introduced the bill after receiving numerous complaints from throughout the community and after a long oversight hearing with the Guam Power Authority showed that the back-billing process is unfair and should be banned.

Currently, GPA and GWA are allowed to back-bill their customers for up to four months. However, Guam law allows GPA and GWA to base their back-billing on estimates rather than on actual consumption. Ridgell said this back-billing occurs as a result of faulty meters and GPA admitted during the oversight hearing that one out of every four meters fails.

But Sanchez said back-billing was established because customers with defective meters are not cut off from power or water services. Instead, they are “fronted” power or water service upfront as their meters are being changed.

If back-billing is abolished entirely, how would the utilities be compensated for this upfront service, Sanchez asked.

And if there’s no back-billing, Sanchez said all the rate payers on Guam would in effect be subsidizing those customers who were “fronted” power or water service.

Sanchez acknowledged that there’s room for improvement in the communication of back-billing to customers and he said CCU is willing to work with Sen. Ridgell on this.