BELIZE CITY, Tues. Mar. 24, 2020– The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on, and in Belize, Belizeans were looking to the state-controlled utility companies to provide some relief measures during this crisis. That, however, may be wishful thinking.
Today, the Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) held a press conference to outline its policy during this period of crisis.
BEL’s senior management explained to the media that while the company is prepared to keep the power on, it cannot absorb the cost of providing relief to its almost 100,000 customers. Therefore, when it comes to bill deferment, the company is prepared to handle that on a case-by- case basis for customers who demonstrate that they are experiencing hardship that is a direct consequence of the COVID-19.
Sean Fuller, the General Manager of BEL’s Commercial and Retail Services, outlined the numbers that are involved in the company’s operation to provide power to the country. He said, “On a monthly basis, our revenue, which is the amount that we collect from our customers on a monthly basis for their consumption of electricity, is around $21.5 million.
“So every month, we bill customers in Belize, all ninety-eight thousand, approximately $21.5 per month, and based on that expected collection of revenue for electricity consumed, it is used to pay our independent power producers. These are the private companies such as CFE, BECOL, BELCOGEN, Santander, BAPCOL, Hydro Maya and our own BEL generation in Caye Caulker, where we have to buy fuel to run those generating plants and the gas turbine at Mile 8 that also consumes fuel.
“As of today, our bill, outstanding payables to these same independent power producers, is about $60 million.”
Fuller explained that they get the energy, and then they are sent the bill from their suppliers.
He added, “…in the situation we are in today, we are about two or three months behind, so we are about $60 million owing to them, as it is today.
“So that really leaves us with about point eight million dollars of available money if BEL collects the full $21.5 million dollars from customers.
“Now we all know we have customers who have been laid off, we have some customers that are really in a situation that they really cannot pay their bill currently, because they don’t have a job.
“As Ms. Sampson mentioned, we are prepared to work with these customers. If they contact us, we will look at each case and determine whether or not it is in fact a legitimate case, because we’ve had cases where customers who we know can pay their bills have been advocating for not paying their bills because of this issue.”
Fuller went on to explain that under the company’s social assistance program, it caters to around 3,000 customers with its Golden Citizen Bill Pay Program.
“…we continue to give the social assistance to about 3,000 customers right now by paying their bills under the Golden Citizen Bill Pay program. We also have facilities in place that if a customer requires a payment arrangement to extend their payment for a later date because they really cannot afford to do it now, we will work with those customers and be able to find a solution to get over this hump.
“We are very optimistic and we believe that while we are in this serious situation in this country, BEL’s position is that we will continue to serve this country. We don’t expect any power outages.”
Fuller explained that BEL has a plan in place and its staff is protected, and he noted, “We are training our staff on how to minimize any risk or potential for attracting this virus, and so we feel that we are very much prepared as a company to go through this and be successful in continuing to serve our customers with electricity, going forward.”
Feature photo: Sean Fuller, General Manager, Commercial & Retail Services