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Sunday, April 20, 2014

CPUC reviews convenience fee CUC collects from customers

The Commonwealth Utilities Corp.’s $1.50 “convenience fee” that it assesses customers who pay their bills using the phone or Internet is now under review by the Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission, after the panel expressed a desire to temporarily suspend the collection of this fee.

CPUC chair Joseph Guerrero said all commissioners—himself, Dave Guerrero, and Oscar Quitugua—have initially discussed the matter and are leaning toward suspending it for the moment.

During public rate hearings in December, CUC customers aired their concern over the $1.50 convenience fee, saying it was unclear if the fee had been approved by CPUC.

“There’s discussion among commissioners that we would like this convenience fee waived pending review, in the hopes that it will lower the cost for everybody. We would like to order that this fee be temporarily suspended,” said Guerrero during Monday’s rate hearing.

CUC officials opposed this and appealed for consideration due to the corporation’s cash flow situation.

According to CUC general counsel James Sirok, CUC is concerned that if the convenience fee is stopped at this time, this will impact the revenues anticipated by CUC for its operational needs and would result in a shortfall.

Sirok suggested that CUC be given ample time to submit information about the convenience fee before the commission decides to have it stopped.

For now, he asked that CUC be allowed to continue collecting the convenience fee until the CPUC reaches a final decision. He recommended that the issue be tabled for the April regulatory session of the commissioners.

According to CPUC hearing examiner Harry Boertzel, the commission has to consider Sirok’s reasonable proposal. The convenience fee was later put on status quo pending documents to be filed by CUC for the spring decision.

“Either you leave the fee in place or we could have parties submit briefs for commission’s decision in April,” said Boertzel who participated in Monday’s hearing through teleconference.

Prior to ending the discussion on the convenience fee, CPUC chair Guerrero urged CUC to issue a notice to customers that the “convenience fee” is under CPUC review.

Additionally, Guerrero ordered CPUC consultant Georgetown Consulting to conduct independent review of the fee and its recommendation on the issue. All this will be finalized at the spring session.

Billing practice

The CPUC also tasked its consultant to investigate CUC’s practice of using estimated figures in billing customers. The report is due before the spring meeting for CPUC’s consideration.

“In some jurisdiction ‘estimating’ is prohibited and that’s one area that Georgetown will look at,” said Guerrero.

Based on the hearing examiner’s report to the CPUC: “It is worth noting that Guam has a strict statutory restrictions on estimated and back billing. The undersigned recommends that Georgetown be tasked with examining CUC’s estimated and back billing practices and to make recommendations for appropriate regulatory action at the spring session, including the need for remedial legislation.”

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