A single press release issued last Thursday has caused Belizeans to begin to dream of cheaper, more affordable liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), commonly known as “butane.”
The Press Office announced on Thursday that residents of Georgeville, in the Cayo District, filled up their gas cylinders with free LPG donated by Belize Natural Energy Limited (BNE), some 3,500 gallons.
Even more intriguing are the statements made later in the release, in which BNE Marketing Department official Daniel Gutierrez reported that the company “has entered a new phase of producing liquefied petroleum gas…We are now producing butane gas in Belize, Belizean butane…”
The release notes that BNE is seeking permission from Government to directly market the commodity to consumers, and confidently forecasts “substantial benefits in reduced butane gas prices.”
Belize has five major importers of LPG: Belize Western Energy Limited (BWEL), Belmont of Corozal Town, Gas Tomza of Belize City, Belize Gas of Orange Walk Town and Western Gas of San Ignacio and Santa Elena Towns. Current prices range from $122 here in the City and Corozal to $127 in Punta Gorda Town, after the last price increase announced on December 3, 2010.
But according to BNE’s Gutierrez in a telephone interview with Amandala today, BNE’s product is not only better, but will also be significantly less costly – how much less, he would not say, as he said the details were still being worked out.
What he did confirm was that the company had been in production of LPG for a year, and was already selling its brand of LPG to as many as 12 “intermediary” companies, including BWEL and LP Gas of Spanish Lookout and individual sellers licensed to operate in the villages in the districts, particularly in the West and South.
Gutierrez quoted a price of $3.20 per gallon versus $5.30 per gallon for the imported variety. He told us that while some of the companies and persons BNE deals with sell to consumers at the same rate at which they buy from BNE, others attempt to make a profit and sell at prices closer to the regulated price set by Government, which hurts the consumer.
BNE, he stated, now wants to market directly to Belizeans, but he added that it wishes to seek Government’s approval in order to prevent any undue resentment to arise due to the significantly lower prices expected if the company goes into the market.
Another complication is that BNE’s current production capability can only service 30% of the Belizean market, estimated at 120,000 gallons per month, or 1.44 million gallons per year. Gutierrez says they will market selectively.
As for Thursday’s event in Georgeville, Gutierrez mentioned a key detail left out of the Government’s release, that the village was one of the communities affected by Hurricane Richard last October, and that the company had similarly donated to affected communities in the hurricane’s path of destruction, from Mullins River in the Stann Creek District and Gales Point and La Democracia in the Belize District, to Cayo communities such as Esperanza and Arenal, with Santa Familia still to come.
Opposition figure Arthur Saldivar, during Saturday’s PUP endorsement convention for Cayo South candidate Julius Espat in Camalote, had made light of the event, asking the audience if they had gotten their free butane yet, and suggested that the affair smacked of “bribery.”
That charge was denied by Cayo Central area rep and Agriculture Minister Hon. Rene Montero, who appeared at Thursday’s event in Georgeville and told Amandala on Sunday during the UDP convention in Corozal Town after we asked him to respond to Saldivar’s suggestions that, “as long as it is helping to alleviate poverty, making things better, I don’t see how one can say that.”
He added that BNE benefited by promoting its product to consumers, and said he would lend a hand to their efforts to expand the market.