By The Star Staff
The Condominium Owners Association, Inc. came out Tuesday against power rate hikes proposed by the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) to pay for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s debt adjustment plan for the next 50 years.
PREPA has been in bankruptcy since 2017 to restructure close to $10 billion in debt. The Bankruptcy Court is expected to confirm the utility’s debt adjustment plan in the coming months.
“Our members can’t stand more increases in their maintenance fees due to increased electric power service. It is time for the government to understand that allowing these hikes affects the entire country, but in our condominium communities, we have no alternatives. Even the loss of our properties is at risk. The power service in a condominium is not an option. It is practically the only energy source with which we can function,” explained Ivette M. Pérez Reilova, vice president of the Association.
PREPA’s debt adjustment plan proposes to cut PREPA’s more than $10 billion of debt to approximately $5.68 billion.
The plan imposes a Legacy Charge for certain customers not currently benefiting from subsidized electricity rates would be, on average, about $19 a month that will be added to the utility bill. The PREPA legacy charge, which will be used to pay bondholders, would exclude qualifying low-income residential customers from a connection fee and kWh charge for up to 500 kWh per month. For non-subsidized residential customers, the proposed PREPA legacy charge would be: a flat $13 per month connection fee; and 75 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for up to 500 kWh per month of electricity provided by PREPA, and 3 cents per kWh for electricity above 500 kWh per month.
For commercial, industrial, and government customers, the PREPA legacy proposed charge would entail: a connection fee of between $16.25 for small business customers, $20 per month for smaller industrial companies, and $1,800 per month for large businesses proportional to their current rate. They will pay between 97 cents and 3 cents per kWh per month for electricity provided by PREPA.
Pérez specified that the impact of the increase in the bill would, directly and indirectly, affect half a million families in approximately 3,000 condominiums, who pay twice the electricity bill.
Owners of condominium apartments pay for the electric service for their apartments and communal areas.
“Annually, every condominium prepares a budget of foreseeable expenses to manage the services and meet the physical needs of communal maintenance. In short, a condominium owner pays for electric service in two bills: the one for his apartment, in which the owner has control of the expense, and the one for service and maintenance of the common areas, which he shares with all the other condominium owners. which they have no control,” she said.
Perez said that in multi-family housing, it is almost impossible to control communal electricity as if it were in a single-family house. “In a condominium, an owner cannot turn off the lights in the patio or the pool,” she said.
Pérez specified that the increase in the bill could also harm access to drinking water in “high rise” condominiums that depend on electric pumps to supply water.
The vice president of the Association insisted that the FOMB and the government have to take into account the diverse composition of the condominium owners, including retirees, since not all of the economic resources or the capacity to generate the income, to pay for electricity rate hikes.