CUC launches web-based pre-paid system

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From left, Sen. Sixto Kaipat Igisomar, Commonwealth Utilities Corp. deputy director William Gilmore, CUC executive director Gary Camacho, Finance Secretary Larissa Larson, Rep. Joseph “Lee Pan” Guerrero (R-Siapan), and CUC chief financial officer Antonio Castro at the ribbon cutting and launch of the Web-Based Electric Prepay Program of CUC. Inset, an array of Nighthawk meters that will record energy consumption and can read or send commands through cellular radio access. (Bea Cabrera)

The Commonwealth Utilities Corp. officially launched yesterday its Web-Based Electric Prepay Program available for residential and government consumers in the islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

According to CUC executive director Gary Camacho, this program has been in the works for four years and they are now accepting applications for the pre-pay program. The ultimate goal is customer satisfaction.

“We initially tried to get this up 3-4 years ago. However, during the conversion of from 2G to 4G, it stalled the plans because the original meters were (applicable only to) 2G and therefore it wasn’t compatible. So we had to wait for some configurations, modifications and new upgrades,” he said.

“Now that we have it, we are very excited to be able to present and open it up today to our consumers,” Camacho added.

The Web-Based Electric Prepay Program experience suggests that there are many benefits for consumers and CUC alike. For eligible consumers, these include customers becoming energy efficient, reduced consumption as customers can manage and stay within budget monthly, no bill due dates to worry about, no need for meter reading monthly, and save time by avoiding payment lines.

For its part, CUC can experience no receivables (upfront cash payments), less delinquent customers and bad debts, reduced congestion on payment lines, operational efficiency, no meter reading monthly, savings on gas and more time for other tasks, less bills and notices on print, less billing disputes to address, and ability to receive alerts for meter tampering.

The Web-Based Electric Prepay Program allows customers to benefit from a specialized meter called the Nighthawk electric meter that permits a customer to go online, get access to the customer web-portal called Pay-Go, and purchase or pay for power before they use it. The minimum KwH purchase is $5 and maximum is $99,999.

Bettina Terlaje, manager of CUC Billing and Financial Accounts, said that the Nighthawk meter talks to the Pay-Go system through cellular radio and Pay-Go sends instructions to the meter and the meter knows what to do.

“When the customer pays, it’s going to tell Pay-Go to connect the power, and when the money runs out in the account, it’s going to tell to disconnect. It is on automatic once you are in pre-paid status,” she said.

“CUC currently has 2,500 meters. We have received 25 meters into inventory, we’ve installed 419 (on Saipan), we have sent 200 to Rota, 200 to Tinian, and we will be sending more as needed,” Terlaje added.

According to Camacho, over 400 meters were installed in government accounts.

“Over the course of October, we will be testing some of these accounts to make sure it’s on an effective and efficient implementation. We plan to get all the government accounts on board by beginning of November,” he said.

“We believe we have a good inventory. We are going to continue to acquire more of these. These are $400 meters as opposed to the $40 meters that we are currently using in the post-paid meters. Obviously there is an investment involved. We’ve been acquiring meters through federal grants and we are going to continue to applying in an annual basis,” Camacho added.

CUC emphasized that there is no difference between a pre-pay and a post-paid meter when it comes to consumption rate.

“What you use exactly in pre-pay is billed in the same way we bill a post-paid. The only difference is that you see a drawdown daily (from web account) whereas when you get a bill, you see your $7 charge and it’s only once a month. But here (pre-pay) it’s going to charge the funds. The only additional charge other than consumption charges is $1.50 convenience fee charge which is a transaction charge,” Terlaje said.

The timeline to getting consumers enrolled in CUC’s Web-Based Electric Prepay Program takes a day unless assessors see additional requirements needed.

According to Terlaje, if the customer does not have Wi-Fi or a computer at home, pre-pay kiosks are available at the CUC payment center. However, customers, for privacy and security reasons, should personally do the purchase of pre-pay credits.

“There will be brochures and pamphlets available that provides a lot of information for the customer. They will also be receiving a customer web portal user guide so for those first-timers they can have a walk-through process on what they need to do like set up notification options like receive email or text messages options,” she said.

Camacho said CUC is committed to find efficiencies in service to achieve savings for the consumer.

“As far as rate increases are concerned, CUC doesn’t have the control over that. Mobil Oil (Mariana Islands, Inc.) is out of our hands. If the rates drop we need to follow it and when there is an increase we need to implement it,” he said.

“So we try everything we can to provide the consumer options and opportunities to save and this Web-Based Electric Prepay Program is an efficiency matter. In this regard, we can come together and be an effective corporation and have a better relationship with our consumers,” Camacho added.

Bea Cabrera
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.

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