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There is no hike in electric rates, says ASPA executive director

ASPA executive director Utu Abe Malae appeared before a Senate committee on Tuesday where he testified that there is no hike in electric rates. Utu came prepared, passing out information sheets and using visual aid — an information board (pictured) — that details ASPA charges and other issues. See story for details.  [photo: FS]
Increased usage, confusion with cycle billing, and delinquency to blame

Increased consumer consumption of electricity is one of the three issues American Samoa Power Authority executive director Utu Abe Malae says has resulted in some people thinking there is an electric rate hike, when none has taken place.

“We cannot implement any electric rate hike, without a public hearing and assessment,” Utu said in his testimony during a Senate Power/Water Committee hearing Tuesday, after complaints were received by some senators about a sudden increase in electric bills.

Utu said the same consumer complaints about the hike in rates were also lodged with Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, who in turn wrote a letter to the ASPA board of directors complaining about the $0.40 per kilowatt hour (kWh) rate.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries after the committee hearing, Utu said he wondered why "all of a sudden customers are unable to read their electricity bills after all these years?"

He said he investigated the cause of the complaints "because the rates have not increased — definitely not to $0.40 kWh. It is about $0.29 kWh."

According to Utu, there “are actually three things that have confused some customers.”

 First is the “cycle billing”, which is the new process involved with reading of customers’ electric meters and billing.

“Instead of reading all the watt-hour meters in one batch, one week each month, we are dividing the customers into three groups or cycles,” he explained. “As soon as one group is read, then the bills are processed. Within 10 days the next group of meters are read. Then within 10 days, the third one completes the month.”

The second issue, Utu said, deals with electric bills not being paid on time. “Delinquency is building up because of the shrinking economy. Therefore there is frustration felt by customers who cannot fully discharge their obligation in one month, and having the balance added to the following month's bill.”

And the third issue is “increased consumption of energy,” said Utu. “Customers are using more electricity and this was apparent when the rates fell to $0.25 kWh.  Our austral winter is warmer than normal and there is more air conditioning being used.”

Utu gave similar explanation during the Senate hearing, and stressed, that “there is no 40 cents per kilowatt hour rate” which was the rate a few years back. Utu provided a handout — information sheets — to senators as well as a display board for visual effects, providing the same details.

Included in the information sheets is the ASPA Sept. 8, 2017 monthly fuel surcharge notification. (Through paid advertisement, ASPA publishes this document in the Samoa News on a monthly basis.)

According to ASPA, the fuel surcharge rate, which is about 70%- 75% of the total kWh price, changes monthly due to fluctuating fuel costs. The fuel charge rate also includes the “renewable reduction” from electricity produced by ASPA's Photo Voltaic panels. The fuel being saved from producing electricity through the PV panels is passed on to customers as “Renewable Reduction” savings.

Utu informed senators that last November, the kilowatt rate was at 25-cents and stressed that the rate all depends on the cost of fuel. For this year, he said the rate peaked in May, when it was about 30-cents per kilowatt hour. Then in June, the rate started to decline a bit as the new power generators at the Satala plant were commissioned the month before.

Another info sheet showed senators the Fuel Expense Trend for FY 2017 — covering October 2016 to August 2017 — noted that fuel expenses last October (at the start of FY 2017) was $2.23 million. By March this year, the expense was $2.69 million before it decreased to $1.97 million in both July and August.