DP releases its draft amendment to introduce prepaid electricity meters

PHILIPSBURG - Democratic Party (DP) parliamentary group leader Member of Parliament (MP) Roy Marlin confirmed on Friday that his party intends to present a draft law amendment to the ordinance granting the electricity concession to power and water utility N.V. GEBE.

The DP will present the amendment during the upcoming public handling of the 2012 budget, said Marlin, the author of the amendment.

“This draft handles prepaid meters for consumers in light of those persons who are frequently disconnected because of hard economic times. They will then be in a position to load their meters based on their finances and better monitor their expenditures, without being confronted with a bill for consumption almost two months after the consumption period,” Marlin explained.

He added that owners of apartments, etc., or persons who reside abroad could have the meters installed, thus avoiding connection and disconnection paperwork. “Imagine someone coming back to the island from vacation and not having to worry about paying a bill on time. They can just load up their meter at any resale point,” he said.

The draft also handles net metering for those persons who produce alternative energy, whereby they can return to the concession holder the excess green energy produced. The draft also calls for the introduction of peak-hour and off-peak-hour tariffs, as well as an energy report to be prepared by the Minister, outlining government policy on energy for a four-year period.

“It will take a couple of months for this to be handled by the Advisory Council, in which then comments would be incorporated from the initiative-takers of this draft as well as those of the Minister concerned. And there will be Central Committee meetings, etc., before this will be handled in a public meeting,” Marlin said.

In motivating its amendment, the DP noted that an inventory of the laws of St. Maarten indicated that regulations were lacking specifically aimed at promoting efficient use of energy (demand-side management) and controlling the cost of this.

“Government, under the concession GEBE holds, has virtually no sufficient public law instruments to promote more efficient use of energy, except through imposing conditions upon the issuance of a concession. A concession is also, unlike legislation, often not accessible to the public,” it was explained.

The draft seeks to introduce the following tools to promote efficient use of energy:

1. The obligation to make an energy label for informational purposes on new home appliances intended for sale, rent or lease to consumers.

2. A legal contract to the concessionaire under the electricity concession to make efforts for the introduction of the possibility that the consumer can opt for peak-hour and peak-rate measuring devices or net metering devices (“net metering” or “prepaid metering devices”).

3. The Minister is to supply four annual energy reports to guide government decision-making, taking the importance of reliable, sustainable, efficient and an environmentally sound operation of electricity into consideration.

Additionally, the draft is a legal contract to the concessionaire to charge a fixed fee for the application of electricity meters in private homes and for commercial purposes that opt ​​for the so-called “prepaid meters and net meters.”

The DP expects no significant financial cost, as the energy for consumption will be managed in a more effective and efficient manner by the individual consumer. The ultimate goal is to reduce monthly burdens for the consumers, resulting in the availability of more disposable income.

The DP proposes a NAf. 50 fee for private consumers who want to switch from the current meters to prepaid and NAf. 250 for commercial properties.

For the concessionaire (GEBE), cost can be expected in connection with the introduction of the prepaid and net metering devices. But the DP argues that it could be contended that every household and commercial establishment in the past made a deposit to GEBE that is not included in GEBE’s operational cost, collects interest, and is hardly ever refunded due to the fact that most persons are in one living space for the duration of their lives.

One advantage of a prepaid meter for consumers is that consumers themselves can determine their usage of electricity and not have to face an electricity bill on March 13 for a consumption period running from January 20 until February 19, with a maturity date of March 18 and a closing date 14 days after March 18.

This system also benefits owners of apartment complexes who often are faced with unpaid bills on departure of a tenant. People who have a second home in St. Maarten would not have to pay for a full year and do not need to bother with monthly bills and having to pay these from abroad.

For GEBE, fewer paper bills will be printed and fewer meter readings will take place, and administrative burdens with respect to the administration of reconnections and illegal connections also could be curtailed.

The DP believes the prepaid meters also would bring with them a strong improvement in GEBE’s the cash flow position, with pre-payment for consumption instead of deferred payment with all the risk of defaulters. GEBE may even offer consumers with poor payment history the option to switch to the prepaid meters.

(The Daily Herald)

9 Mrach 2012

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