The island’s water and electricity companies say it is not unusual for utility bills to be higher at this time, given that more people are at home due to the COVID-19 crisis.
At the same time, the National Water Commission (NWC) and Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) suggest that customers make every effort to conserve.
In recent weeks, some Jamaicans have posted complaints about much higher bills on social media platforms. However, NWC’s Corporate Communications Manager Andrew Canon says this is to be expected.
“Persons would be home at this time and their children would be home. On many occasions, generally speaking, they tend to use more water and persons would have been doing more hygiene practices in light of COVID-19, like the regular washing of hands, so we wouldn’t be surprised if there are some persons who would be seeing an increase in their bills, based on that,” he said.
He cautioned, though, that each bill must be examined individually.
“Some persons may have a leak that they don’t know about; each case must be treated on its own merit. So if they’re seeing a bill and it looks rather exorbitant, we want them to call the NWC. It is very important that customers don’t fall into the habit of making general assessments to say that bills are high, and as a result of that their bills are high too,” Canon said.
At the same time, he said there were changes in the price adjustment mechanism (PAM) — a percentage of customers’ overall bills — which take into account foreign exchange, electricity rates and the consumer price index.
“There was a zero per cent PAM rate for January, but for February the PAM rate was 6.73 per cent,” Canon explained, adding that in February there was an increase in the foreign exchange, electricity rate and the consumer price index. “Those three things moved northern, compared to the previous month. PAM is applied with a two-month lag, therefore the components for February, persons are not going to see it until about April or so. That could explain why persons are seeing it (an increase) just now, because January was a bit low. It could be a combination of an adjustment of the PAM, and more persons are home.”
He stressed that customers must continue to conserve as best as is possible, despite being at home, while also making the point that NWC bills still have to be paid.
“It costs to produce water — it has to be treated, it has to be powered through the pumps. They have to pay for the water in order for us to continue to supply the water,” he emphasised.
Speaking for the JPS, Media and Communications Manager Audrey Williams said there is an overall increase in the consumption of electricity in the residential customer category, likely due to the fact that more people are at home.
She noted that in addition to electronic devices and lighting, the refrigerator can account for the bulk of electricity usage.
“Now that children are at home and there is more food preparation taking place for multiple meals per day, this can also make a contribution to electricity consumption,” Williams noted.
She said customers are strongly advised to conserve at this time, and keep track by scrutinising the usage chart on their bills, which shows trends for the past 12 months.
“We also urge that they practise good energy management, especially for high-energy-consuming appliances like the fridge, air-conditioning, electric stove and water heater,” she said, adding that people who need clarity or are experiencing challenges paying their bills should contact JPS to make flexible arrangements.
Williams assured that the JPS’s current daily capacity of 940 megawatts (MW) is more than enough to power the electricity needs of the country.
“Even with more Jamaicans being at home, the peak demand in recent times has been less than 600 MW, so JPS is well able to meet the demand, unless there is some unforeseen event impacting the system,” she explained.
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