With Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero lifting the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, the Consolidated Commission on Utilities is also planning to resume the disconnection of its delinquent power and water accounts.
During the CCU board meeting last night, it was revealed that the number of ratepayers with delinquent accounts has been growing because of the economic dislocation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Worse, CCU commissioner Simon Sanchez said delinquent ratepayers have no incentive to pay back their arrears because of the continuing moratorium on disconnections adopted by the utilities.
“A number of payment plans went down at Guam Waterworks Authority because we weren’t going to disconnect anybody,” Sanchez said.
Before the pandemic, Guam Power Authority’s average arrears was 30 days due. Right now, GPA CFO John Kim said this has increased to 40 days. In addition, Kim said the number of accounts overdue by 120 days has gone up, about twice as many as that during the pre-COVID period.
“So we’re gonna have to make a collective decision on our current policy of non-disconnection. That can’t go on forever because the overwhelming majority of ratepayers are paying their bills and this wouldn’t be fair to them. To their credit, during this difficult time, they’re paying their bills but they were getting PUA and checks from the federal government, which may or may not come in in the future. We’ll see. And even if it comes in, we’re not sure how it’s going to be applied,” Sanchez said.
As the economy tries to get back to normal, Sanchez said the utilities are going to be faced with a similar challenge over how to collect from ratepayers that are having financial problems
“And yet, we’re collecting from other ratepayers. You know, we can’t keep this up. We can’t give free power forever,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez also cited GWA management’s report which stated that people are not doing payment plans because they don’t need to because the utilities are not disconnecting.
“And so how do we address that challenge in light of a still very uncertain employment future and cash flow future for many, many of our ratepayers. There’s a typhoon out there and we know it’s coming our way and we need to think about how to help our ratepayers and yet be responsible in terms of fairness to everyone,” Sanchez said.
CCU Chairman Joey Duenas stressed that if the utilities do start to disconnect again, there has to be a lot of notice and outreach to the ratepayers.
“Our customers need to get the maximum amount of information so that they’ll know this is coming even as you start working on your disconnection plans. Just make sure that in your plans is included a lot of outreach,” Duenas said.
Sanchez’s advice to delinquent ratepayers is to establish a payment plan as soon as possible.
“If you’re having trouble now, come see us to establish a payment plan. Don’t just blow it off. Don’t just wait until the last minute, then the lights go out. We’ve been through tough times before and payment plans can help us together get through this. It’s also not fair that 90 percent are paying their bill and 10 percent are not, and we want to try to manage that as best as we can to help people as best as we can,” Sanchez said.