Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The results are in!

By GENEA NOEL

Freeport News Reporter
Freeport, Grand Bahama-A random meter testing conducted by the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) has concluded that no electricity meters were found to be functioning in a way that would suggest overbilling, despite complaints by residents of "outrageous" electricity bills.

According to a press re-lease issued by the GBPA late Monday afternoon, ITRON Inc. was commissioned to carry out testing on electricial meters operated by the Grand Bahama Power Company (GBPC) which were randomly selected throughout Freeport and outlying settlements.

The testing was reportedly witnessed by an electronics engineer, two electrical engineers, a Freeport businessman, and representatives from GBPA, Freeport City Council, and the Grand Bahama Chamber of Com-merce who also compiled a report.

ITRON Inc. randomly tested 115 residential and commercial customers. After testing, it was found that three meters failed the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) limits, which determines acceptable efficiency within which meters should operate.

Vice-president of Building and Development Services for GBPA, Arthur Jones stated that the three meters failed 'slow' – meaning they would have been recording less energy consumed than what was actually used.

"It was also observed that each of these three meters had their seals broken, suggesting illegal tampering," Jones said.

According to Jones, after the observers confirmed no malfunctioning electrical me-ters, they recommended that a regulatory committee be put in place to monitor the billing process by GBPC.

"The exercise in this meter testing led the team of observers to suggest that a neutral party should be re-tained to verify that the re-corded consumption of electrical energy matches the billing as determined by GBPC," Jones explained.

According to the release, the power company has since advised that they have al-ready engaged in a one year process to stabilize the metering system currently in place with industrial, commercial and residential customers, ensuring that meters are accurate, sealed, correctly wired and safe.

They have also committed to ensuring that GBPC's systems are correctly billing customers for the amount of power that they use, and to ensure that appropriate 'metering-to-billing' procedures are in place to keep the process accurate going forward."

"GBPA awaits the results of this project, which according to the Power Company, is due to be completed by late April 2010," the statement read.

"In the interim, GBPA supports the recommendation for the formation of a standing group of observers to monitor GBPC's procedures between metering and billing."

ITRON was contracted back in September after residents raised concerns about the rates being charged by the GBPC.

A group of residents had also demonstrated outside of the GBPC's office protesting high power bills and the lack of reinvestment by the company.

GBPC president Ian Rolle had expressed their dissatisfaction with regards to the power company's performance and challenged them to lower the cost of power for the island of Grand Baha-ma.

"We have ideas in terms of how to reduce the cost of power and we basically told the power company that we would actually benefit from the exercise ... We will attract additional industry and every-body wins," Rolle reported at the time.

Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham also weighed in on the matter, saying that the government was concerned about the operation of the GBPC, and was considering whether or not the company should be regulated by the new authoritative body established by the government, the Utilities Regu-lation and Competition Au-thority (URCA).

"We expected that they would have brought greater efficiencies to Grand Baha-ma's electrical generating supply and that has not happened," Ingraham said at the time.

"Secondly we are concerned that the original intent of Freeport was that the Port Authority would regulate the electrical supply operator and the water and the telephone operators here... Since that time, the Grand Bahama Power Company is now supplying electricity to the entire island of Grand Bahama."

Ingraham also noted government's concern about the fact that the GBPC has not reinvested adequate sums of money into its generation and distribution system.

"The company has over the years taken its profits out in cash rather than reinvesting it into their operation," he said.

The service delivered by the GBPC also leaves much to be desired, the Prime Minster said, with the number of outages occurring in Grand Bahama being "far in excess" of those in other islands which are serviced by government entities.

"As we all know, it is government enterprises that are supposed to be less efficient than the private sector and so the Grand Bahama Power has not given us confidence now that the private sector by itself is the answer," he said.

Addressing the complaints by residents of Grand Bahama about the high rates being charged by the GBPC, Ingraham said this should not be such a major issue since the company is able to access fuel at a lower rate than the Bahamas Electrical Corporation.

"They don't pay any customs duty or the rest of it, they are able to service their suppliers outside the area in bonded vehicles and so that ought to account for something in terms of electricity costs here in Grand Bahama," he said.

Acknowledging that there are standard profits that utility companies are expected to make, he pointed out that there are also standard sums of money that ought to be kept for reinvestment in upgrades of plant and distribution systems.

"When the decision is taken for URCA to regulate Grand Bahama Power these will all be issues that will become relevant," he said.

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