Headline — 08 May 2019
No news from BEL and PUC

It is a priority for the Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) to keep the cost of electricity down, since that type of energy is so vital to businesses, and homeowners too, and the PUC chairman, John Avery, brought welcome news to the country from that quarter last week, which was that there really was no news on that front, not any that would significantly affect the rates for consumers.

7News reported on Thursday, May 2, that although “BEL proposed no adjustments to the currently approved Mean Electricity Rate”, the “PUC puts it at 41.51 cents per kilowatt —  an increase of some 0.4%, which has no impact on currently approved tariffs.”

On December 13,, 2018, we had reported (in a story by Courtney Menzies) that six months ago BEL had “attempted to increase electricity rates by 7.1%, from $0.3699 per kilowatt hour to $0.3954”, but “the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) only approved an increase of 4.4%, which set the mean electricity rate at $0.3862 per kilowatt hour”, and that BEL had issued another press release, on December 10, in which the company “notified the PUC that they are proposing to increase the electricity rates again, this time to $0.4150 per kilowatt hour.”

BEL, in that December 10 release, said the call for an increase in the electricity rates was “due to significant increases in cost of power since May 2018”, which was brought on by higher prices from Mexico and below average production by local hydro plants. In the release BEL explained that PUC regulations required that they apply for an adjustment in the tariff.  BEL News, of Friday, April 5, 2019, said that BEL had proposed to the PUC that they “maintain the Mean Electricity Rate (MER) at $0.4138 per kWh for the next Annual Tariff Period from July 1, 2019 through to June 30, 2020.”

BEL explained that they had a shortfall of $18.5 million between July 2017 and June 2018, and that they are “proposing to recover this shortfall over the next three annual tariff periods instead of over a shorter period of time in order to soften the impact on customer bills.”   BEL News said that BEL “continues to explore ways to mitigate impacts of increases in the cost of power on electricity rates while remaining committed to its mission of providing safe, reliable and affordable energy services.”

We recall that late last year the PUC thought BEL was asking for too little, and suggested they actually needed 43 cents per kilowatt hour to keep their business going, and then, shortly after, the government stepped in with the demand that BEL keep the rates frozen. News5 reported on May 3 that Avery explained there wasn’t going to be any increase to consumers for electricity at this time. In the story, Avery explained that “the mean electricity rate doesn’t really carry any significance…not that significant in the grand scheme of things… it represented a mere point four percent increase in the mean electricity rate that was approved in December and when you apply that point four percent across the board to the existing tariffs, the amounts were so insignificant that practically there are no changes in the tariffs.”

In its company profile, BEL lists six tariff classes – social rate customers, residential customers, commercial customers, industrial 1 customers, industrial 2 customers, and street lights. That 0.4%, we expect, will be spread out among these customers.

Indexmundi at indexmundi.com says Belize consumed 413 million kilowatts of electricity in 2015 and the BEL Company Profile in the company’s annual report puts the consumption of electricity at 552 gigawatts (552 million kilowatts) in 2017, spread out over 94,450 accounts.

At some point BEL will have to come to the consumers for its money, if it cannot find cheaper sources of energy to produce electricity.The company and the regulator have not been on the best of terms. In one instance we saw the PUC saying that BEL is not charging customers enough, and in this excerpt from the 7News files, a December 27, 2018 story titled “Brace For A Bigger Light Bill: PUC Approves BEL Increase”, we find PUC Chairman, John Avery, complaining about BEL’s failure to bring down the cost of power:

“The PUC intends to advise BEL in writing that if measures aren’t put in place in a satisfactory timeframe to mitigate some of these extra costs that we’ve been paying, consumers won’t be expected to bear that cost…The commission is not supposed to manage BEL.”

WorldData.info says “Belize can partly provide itself with self-produced energy. The total production of all electric energy producing facilities is 280 m kWh. That is 62% of the country’s own usage. The rest of the needed energy is imported from foreign countries. Along with pure consumptions the production, imports and exports play an important role. Other energy sources such as natural gas or crude oil are also used.”

The BEL Company Profile breaks it down to 58% renewable energy (hydro, biomass), 37% imported (from Mexico), and 5% non-renewable (diesel generators). The company’s largest shareholder is Fortis, with 33.3% of the shares, followed by GoB, with 32.6% of the shares, SSB, with 31.2% of the shares, and 1500 small shareholders who own 2.9% of the company.

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Deshawn Swasey

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