• The Star Staff

PREB grills PREPA officials on rate hikes

By The Star Staff

Pressured by remarks from government officials opposing rate hikes, the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (PREB) asked numerous questions to force Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) officials to justify a request for adjustments to certain factors in customers’ utility bills that may lead to rate hikes.

PREB Chairman Edison Avilés asked PREPA officials whether the utility had some $91 million in the bank to make up for fuel adjustment charges the utility wanted to pass on to consumers for the quarter that goes from October to December in the event that the regulator rejects PREPA’s request. PREPA Finance Director Nelson Morales said the utility had $461 million in its bank account and could assume the cost.

“We don’t want to hurt the finances of PREPA, but we also have to think of the people,” Avilés said.

Puerto Rico is in a fragile state after numerous businesses were forced to shut down amid the global coronavirus pandemic, leaving thousands on the island jobless.

On Sept. 18, PREPA asked the PREB to authorize the reconciliation of the riders in the utility bills for fuel adjustment and for the purchase of energy. After explaining the complex process for their calculations, PREPA Executive Director Efran Paredes said the utility wanted to get back $91 million for the fuel adjustment factor but give customers a credit of $6.6 million for the fuel purchasing factor.

The projected fuel adjustment charge would come out to 82 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for the months September to December and the power purchase factor to 46 cents per kWh, according to the petition.

“The Authority will inform the customers what cost will be implemented in the next quarter once the PREB issues its order,” Paredes said in a statement before the hearing.

PREPA customers currently pay about 19 cents per kWh in their utility bills.

On Wednesday several officials, including Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced, came out against PREPA’s petition.

“I oppose any hikes. PREPA has not provided evidence to support the hike,” the governor said.

The opposition Popular Democratic Party also called the government irresponsible and negligent, referring to the proposed rate hike.

PREPA has gone before the PREB several times this year to seek authorization for reconciliations.

To justify the adjustments, the document submitted to the PREB noted that demand for energy went up after May because of the COVID-19 pandemic and temperature hikes. Officials also noted a hike in the price of oil globally.

The hearing was still in progress at press time.

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