B.E.L. seeks new rates that favour small consumers
Belize Electricity Limited, the nation's sole distributor of electrical power, has applied for new rates ... but before anyone gets excited it should be explained that according to B.E.L., charges will actually be reduced for most customers. The rebalancing of rates is part of an Annual Review Proceeding that B.E.L. has requested under the regulations set out by the Public Utilities Commission. Today the P.U.C. held a press briefing to explain the sometimes confusing process involved in setting utility rates. Eugene Cleland is one of the commissioners and he stressed the importance of the public's input.
Eugene Cleland, P.U.C. Commissioners
"Basically B.E.L. made a submission today for an Annual Review Proceeding. The submission now has triggered that Annual Review Proceeding. The P.U.C. received the inputs from B.E.L., reviews it, makes a final decision, the decision is made available to the public, the public can comment, object. In the event that there are objections or disagreements, then experts are introduced into the process and then a final decision will be made. ... At the end of the day, the objective of the entire process is to ensure that B.E.L. receives adequate revenues to meet their operating costs to provide satisfactory customer services. There is a reasonable rate of return at the same time to ensure that the R.S.A. that was built up is depleted acceleratedly.
"What can we do to get the public more involved in this process because in the end we are the ones that pay the bills?"
"Well I think the entire regulation concept is new to Belize. It will take time for the public to understand the purpose of the regulation or the regulator, to have confidence in the regulator, and at the same time the media, like you said, can assist the regulator in encouraging organised representatives to participate in the entire process because the process does invite public participation at several points in the process."
According to a B.E.L. release, under its proposal, the ten dollar service charge now placed on residential bills will be eliminated, but the cost per kilowatt hour will go up. The end result, they claim, is that for the seventy-five percent of consumers using less than five hundred kilowatts per month, bills will either stay the same or go down with the smallest users receiving the largest savings. Of course larger residential consumers, as well as commercial customers, would see an increase. According to B.E.L., the total effect of their proposed rate structure would be revenue neutral ... which prompts the question: if B.E.L.'s total revenue will remain the same, why bother to reconfigure the rates? We asked B.E.L.'s Dawn Sampson, who told us that they wanted to help their poorest customers as well as give them a greater ability to conserve energy. In other words, by raising the price of each kilowatt hour consumed, customers will be more likely to use less electricity.
The proposal will be published in this week's newspapers and the P.U.C. will accept comments until April twenty-third. By May second, the P.U.C. will deliver its initial decision. Interested parties may comment on the decision until May fourteenth. If there are no objections, the initial decision stands. If there are objections, then by May twenty-second the P.U.C. must hire an independent expert to review the decision, who will deliver a report within twenty days. Within fifteen days of the report's submission, the P.U.C. will issue its final decision, which will be effective as of July first.