Lifeline rate takes effect

Posted on Dec 29 2011

Good news for low-income customers of the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.

The utilities company’s lifeline tariff program has finally been approved by the Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission, allowing the agency to give discounts to low-income households on the non-fuel portion of their monthly bills.

The program is available to anyone who currently receives benefits from the federal public housing assistance (Section 8), food stamps, Medicaid, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP, Supplementary Security Insurance, National School Lunch Free Program, and temporary assistance for needy families.

These customers can expect to save up to $2.52 on their basic monthly bill.

The lifeline tariff applies to the first 500kWh consumption; the regular rate applies to any amount above this usage. The lifeline tariff applies to a customer’s bill going back to June 7, 2011.

To avail of the discount, qualified customers have until Jan. 30, 2012, to apply for the program. The discount will be applied to the first billing cycle after the submission of the application and proof of eligibility.

Customers may apply in person or call the CUC customer service center or financial accounts management.

However, CUC said the lifeline rate cannot be applied to an outstanding balance owed the utilities firm.

CUC chief financial officer Charles Warren said yesterday that the agency has set no limit on the number of low-income customers it will serve under the new program.

“There is no cap. The cost to establish the program was fairly low; just the man hours needed to research and prepare the regulations,” he said.

Saipan Tribune learned that eligibility for the lifeline tariff program is reviewed periodically to determine if customers are still qualified to continue availing of the discount. Benefits will stop when customers no longer meet the requirements.

Because the discount applies only to the non-fuel portion of the customer’s billing, the lifeline rate does not apply to the levelized energy adjustment clause, or LEAC, which covers the fuel and lube oil expenses used to produce electricity.

Warren said that CUC has yet to assess the fiscal impact of the program until after its full implementation. “We really will not know the fiscal impact until everyone who is eligible has signed up, but we have estimated about $50,000 per year,” he added.

He said the new program is “effective immediately, and for those who apply by Jan. 30, 2012, it will be retroactive to June 7, 2011.” The program, he said, has no expiration date.

Saipan Tribune learned that about 55 percent or some 6,000 of CUC’s residential customers consume at least 500 kWh per month.

CUC has been ordered by CPUC to create the lifeline rate for low-income families to aid them in their monthly power bills.


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