GPA: Inaccessibility a ‘factor’ for unchanged faulty meters

The CCU is planning to end its moratorium on the disconnection of delinquent utility accounts. (PNC file photo)

Guam – An audit from the Office of Public Accountability found that 245 of Guam Power Authority customer accounts were estimated billed past the three-month limit. According to GPA, this was due to some customer locations being inaccessible due to factors such as locked gates and unreachable enclosures.

Beginning in 2012, the Guam Power Authority made the switch to using smart meters to measure how much power their customers consumed. Every fifteen minutes, the system relays a reading of kilowatt hour usage to GPA’s network. But how does GPA find out when meters aren’t working?

John Benavente, GPA general manager said, “Basically, we have a system now. Every three or four days, the system will monitor itself and identify those that are not communicating.”

“If it (meters) hasn’t been communicating for four days, then we’ll look at it to see if it needs to be reset. And if it works fine, then okay. And if it doesn’t, then a work order is established and teams from the meter shop will go and replace them,” Benavente added.

But what happens when you’ve been waiting for weeks while dealing with a faulty meter? According to Benavente, this means that customers would be given an estimated bill.

“If your consumption is $250 a month and it goes back to 0, then we’re allowed to back bill you for say, four months. So, we bill you nothing for four months – that’s $1000. And we bill you…it makes it difficult for anyone to pay that up front,” he said.

Benavente said that’s why customers should maintain some kind of an estimated billing for a certain period of time. He said that would minimize the impact of any back billing by the power authority.

How are bills calculated?

Benavente said bills are calculated by getting the average kilowatt hours on the bills of the previous two months and charging the customer based on that amount. If the customer is found to be overcharged, then GPA would credit the appropriate amount back to them.

GPA uses a service called the Oracle Customer Care and Billing System, which uses customer usage data to determine the estimated amount and make sure it is as close as possible to actual usage.

Once the defective meter is replaced, GPA will take the average daily kilowatt hour readings from the new meter after two months of operation and compare that with the estimated usage from when the meter wasn’t working. GPA will then take the difference between the two amounts and credit the customer back.

Around a thousand of the GPA’s smart meter units were not logging from January to early April, meaning that the meters were experiencing communication issues with GPA’s network.

According to Benavente, the smart meters’ manufacturer identified the cause of the damage to the meters’ supercapacitors.

The supercapacitors, according to Benavente, communicates with the grid system during an outage.

The supercapacitors, while useful, are particularly susceptible to harm from high environmental temperatures.

GPA said that the manufacturer has upgraded the meters under warranty and that GPA will monitor the meters to see whether the redesign has improved the units.

The OPA report said GPA will take appropriate action to credit back the 245 accounts that have been estimated-billed beyond four months.