Consumer Protection Office requests investigation of PREPA billing practice

By John McPhaul

Hannia Rivera Díaz, the executive director of the Independent Office for Consumer Protection (OIPC by its Spanish initials), announced Wednesday that she has submitted an investigation request to the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau to look into the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) practice of customer “bill correction.”

Rivera Díaz said that a few months ago, she noticed a considerable increase in the number of consumers who come to her office in search of a remedy due to the fact that PREPA estimates their electricity consumption for prolonged periods of time, sometimes for years, and then they receive an invoice with an adjustment identified as “invoice correction” or “current charges.”

“In the invoices of some of these consumers, the charges exceed thousands of dollars and it is not until the citizen gets into the formalities with the Authority that he becomes aware that the main reason for the collection is the practice of estimating the invoices,” Rivera Díaz said. “Although it is true that the estimation of invoices in itself is not a practice prohibited by law, the invoice corrections that the Authority makes as a result of that action are illegal, as they exceed the 120 days allowed by Law 272-2002 to report calculation errors. It should be noted that, in 100% of the cases dealt with at the OIPC, the invoice corrections made exceed the aforementioned term.”

The OIPC executive director added that in the discharge of her functions, she carried out negotiations with PREPA employees and they were unsuccessful. She said PREPA argued that if the consumer does not specifically request that an adjustment be made under Law 272-2002, they are not given the adjustment, even though the consumer has come exclusively to object to the bill.

“These actions affect the provision of a reliable service, violate the public energy policy of the government of Puerto Rico and have the effect of restricting the right of consumers to exhaust administrative remedies and their due process of law,” Rivera Díaz said. “It also obliges them to make inaccurate, unfair, and unreasonable payments through a process plagued by a lack of transparency and correction. This is why we ask that the necessary corrective measures be investigated and issued … with the objective that the people of Puerto Rico remain with our guarantee of offering a reliable, efficient and transparent electrical system, as dictated by the public energy policy of our country.”

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