Prepaid electricity could be an option for Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) consumers in the near future. BEC Chairman Michael Moss told Guardian Business that if BEC implemented a prepaid meter system, it would operate similarly to the Bahamas Telecommunications Company's (BTC) prepaid cell phone system. "Prepaid electricity is like any other prepaid service, whether it's your cell phone or any other service. You can pay in advance and regulate your usage because you know how much you have invested. There are different types of prepaid electricity services," he explained.
"There are some where it is almost like a cell phone, where you download so much into your meter, and once your meter reaches that level, it shuts off until you go and buy some more."
He noted there is also a sophisticated network that will have the capacity for the metering system to be treated as either a prepaid or post-paid system. "You have the metering system where the same metering network can be treated as prepaid or postpaid, and then you have others where the prepaid network is dedicated solely to prepaid," Moss said.
"We have been looking at both options and have not yet determined quite the direction we will go, but we believe that moving towards a prepaid metering scheme will give persons an opportunity to manage their expenditure a bit better." Moss believes it is a concept that could be implemented in the near future. However, he admitted that include a prepaid system would require quite a fair bit of capital expenditure, which the corporation cannot afford right now.
"Hopefully, it is something that we will be looking at in the not-so-distant future. Again, to transition to that kind of a system requires a fair bit of capital expenditure and right now we are trying to manage pennies," he added.
The announcement comes as Bahamians struggle more than ever to pay their electricity bill. A record 7,000 homes have taken advantage of BEC's recent electricity assistance initiative.
Up to last month, a total of 7,313 people have signed on to the program offered by BEC, according to Arnette Ingraham, head of corporate communications. "It is the most we have ever done," she said. "Even when we did it in the past, it hasn't been this high. What we offer now is a bit friendlier than before. The last time you had to pay one-third of the outstanding balance and the rest over time."
Under the new structure, Bahamians are expected to only pay for their last unpaid bill, in some cases stretching back to 2008. A three-year payment plan is then brought in to guide future payments. With many clients unwilling or unable to make payments, Ingraham said the new system provides a much-needed structure for many Bahamians struggling to keep the lights on. "We've had a problem with people keeping up to date on bills. This way you are being mandated. Now we have thousands of customers that weren't even on our books for a while. That's more money for us, so we're seeing our clients come in more frequently than before."
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