The Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology (MSET) and the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPS), have agreed that more will be done to address customers’ concerns about high electricity bills. This position was reached following presentations to the Government in which JPS outlined several factors that would have contributed to higher electricity bills since the advent of COVID-19.
In reinforcing the need for the JPS to strengthen its customer service infrastructure and overall consumer communication to proactively engage its customers, Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, Hon. Fayval Williams said that “These are unprecedented times, and the people of Jamaica have been seeing increases in their bills that they do not understand. As all Jamaicans regain their footing from the devastating impact of COVID-19, it will be important for JPS to listen to customers, proactively reach out and understand specific needs.”
For his part, JPS President and Chief Executive Officer, Michel Gantois, admitted that there was need to improve customer engagement.
He said, “Our relationship with our customers and partners has deteriorated over the past few months. This is not what we would have wanted, and we recognise that we need to be more proactive in handling their concerns. We commit to improve the matters that are of concern to our customers. We are taking immediate steps to ensure that customers better understand their bills, have information to manage their usage and have greater access to our representatives. We are working assiduously to provide more tools and resources to serve our customers and to empower them to manage their energy consumption. This is only the beginning- no stone will be left unturned in pursuing options for adding greater value to our customers at this time and in the future,” he committed.
In the meantime, to facilitate full transparency, the Company will continue to give its full support to the audit being undertaken by the Office of Utilities Regulations (OUR) which is expected to be completed by mid-August. The results of the audit will be made public and where deficiencies are noted, make customers aware of the plans to address these. In addition, the JPS will conduct an examination of its culture, practices and processes to ensure strategic focus on what matters to customers such as affordability and reliability of service and proactive communication given the essential nature of electricity.
The Ministry has agreed to a raft of measures that, with Government support, will see JPS making greater effort to:
1. Work relentlessly to further improve JPS’ operational efficiency to help make electricity more affordable while still reliable;
2. In conjunction with the OUR, review and simplify the bill layout to ensure customers are more empowered by the information provided, for example, separate the reporting on customers’ bill of Independent Power Producer (IPP) capacity charge from fuel charge. These items are a straight pass through to customers and IPPs have a greater impact on electricity generation now than in the past;
3. Improve adherence to the OUR’s requirement to automatically investigate bills that increase or decrease by 30% or more on a month-on-month basis and to communicate with the impacted customers, so they better understand the circumstances;
4. Proactively enhance communication, specifically around initiatives implemented in light of COVID-19, to include the provision of additional contact channels and flexible payment arrangements for vulnerable customers;
5. Accelerate the initiatives, which are already in place, to reduce the number of estimated bills and keep customers updated with the progress;
6. Empower customers with practical conservation information, including information on energy usage per appliance, to guide purchasing decision and influence behaviour change;
7. Through the introduction of a mobile application, allow customers who sign up to access Smart Meter data (where available) to better manage their energy usage; while that mobile application is being developed, JPS will use other methods such as text messages to alert customers to significant variations in their monthly usage patterns.
8. While adhering to required operational standards, ensure limited impact of maintenance outages on homes, schools and business in carrying out preparations for the hurricane season.
The Minister said that JPS must move urgently to make good on its commitments and work assiduously to enhance customer engagement and customer experience. She emphasized as well that the Government remains committed to working with JPS on the fulfilment of the vision and goals of the National Energy Policy, chief among its aim is “An energy sector that provides affordable energy supplies to all consumers throughout Jamaica with a capacity to meet long-term growth in demand; and one that contributes to the international competitiveness of the productive sectors of the economy”.