FNM leader suggests class-action lawsuit possible
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Opposition leader Michael Pintard has urged the Utilities Regulation and Competition Authority (URCA) to “come clean” on its BPL fuel rate increase decision, asserting that there is a “disconnect” between what is allowed by law and what BPL has been allowed to do by the regulator.
In a press statement last month, URCA stated that after a comprehensive review of the recent BPL fuel charge increase and billing tiers, it was satisfied that BPL made an “adequate” case for its rate increase.
Pintard said: “However, if one were to look at the June 2020 amendment to the Electricity Act with respect to how the fuel charge is to be calculated and passed onto consumers, there seems to be a “disconnect” between what is allowed by law and what BPL has been allowed to do by URCA, a statutory body that is in place to protect consumers.
“In accordance with the June 2020 amendment to the Electricity Act, fuel charge is to be calculated as a per kilo-watt hour cost on a monthly basis, and this cost is passed on to each consumer at the same price with the consumer billed at this single calculated rate in accordance with how much electricity they consumed within that specific month,” said Pintard.
Pintard further noted that when the fuel hedging program was put in place in July 2020, BPL was allowed to charge consumers a flat fuel rate for up to 12 months, keeping track of the actual cost of fuel in an “over-under” recovery account, and was required to adjust the fuel rate during the 12-month period if the actual price of fuel was +/- five percent of the flat fuel fee that was being charged to customers.
“In examining what happened to the fuel charged when the Davis Administration failed to conduct the requested fuel hedge transaction in October 2021, and the resulting press release from BPL in February 2022 to increase the fuel charge by more than 30 percent, the Davis Administration made a decision to “subsidize” the fuel costs to the tune of millions of dollars per month, possibly circumventing the law at that time,” said Pintard.
He asked why URCA didn’t make a formal statement to the public regarding whether or not BPL and the Government of the Bahamas violated the law.
“Now BPL has decided to bill customers differently for fuel costs based on their electricity consumption levels, but there is no provision in the amendment to the electricity act to support this,” he said.
“URCA needs to provide details on how BPL determined the different levels of billing for fuel to their customers, and how they came to a conclusion that BPL is in compliance with the law. The Bahamas is a country of laws and as such consumers have the right to take matters to court should they conclude that they are not being treated fairly under the law.
“Has URCA considered the possibility of a class action lawsuit brought against URCA and BPL by consumers, especially small, medium, and large businesses who are bearing the bulk of the 163 percent increase in fuel costs which could lead to as much as a doubling of their overall electricity bills next summer,” said Pintard.