More power, water customers fall behind

RATEPAYER: Tito Paulino drops off a payment at the Guam Power Authority and Guam Waterworks Authority headquarters in Mangilao on Nov. 24, 2020. GPA and GWA are seeing more customers fall behind on their bills. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

Both the Guam Waterworks Authority and Guam Power Authority are seeing more of their customers fall behind on their utility bills, and collections could restart soon.

The issue of aging and unpaid utility bills was just one topic discussed by the Consolidated Commission on Utilities, the elected group that governs both utilities. Both GPA and GWA suspended disconnections as a lifeline to customers who lost their jobs or had their earnings substantially reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as receivables are getting older, on average, for both entities, the number of payment plans to take care of overdue bills has decreased.

It’s an impending financial problem for GPA and GWA that CCU Commissioner Simon Sanchez likened to a recently lifted moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for home renters and homeowners.

“We’re going to have to make a collective decision on our current policy of non-disconnection. That can’t go on forever, because the other reality is the overwhelming majority of ratepayers are paying their bill – to their credit during this difficult time,” Sanchez said. “So we have to think about how long can we give free power to some, while the great majority are paying their bill.”

The bills accrued by prepaid power customers have “ballooned” by $600,000 in just 17 days, Sanchez pointed out. GPA allows customers to prepay for power but the suspension of disconnections has allowed certain ratepayers to run up their power tab beyond their prepaid amount.

GPA General Manager John Benavente said he'll think about the idea of resuming disconnections.

“We will come back to you, that’s a good point,”  Benavente said.

“Financially, we’re able to,” Benavente said about holding off on disconnections, for now, even with the recent decision to use a portion of GPA's working capital funds to cushion the steep impact of the fuel surcharge increase. “It hasn’t hurt us at this point.”

CCU Chairman Joey Duenas requested a heads-up of how the utilities will address the matter by March.

“Whatever you’re going to do, when you start to now implement disconnections again, I think all commissioners are going to share that we want there to be a lot of notice and a lot of outreach to our customers,” Duenas said.

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