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BEL’s New Year’s Gift to Belizeans

Happy New Year, Belizeans, from your friendly essential services neighbor, Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), who along with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), has decided to increase your electricity rates by 13% effective January 1, 2006.

While most Belizeans were happily bringing in the New Year at midnight last Saturday, BEL and the PUC were bringing in the new rates, which were made public on Monday, January 2, 2006. The decision reached by BEL and the PUC means that the average charge per kilowatt-hour now increases from 39 cents to 44.1 cents. And while the rate increase is one thing, service charges have also been increased sharply across the board, going up anywhere from 33% to 100%.

There are different charges for different sectors, and here’s the official breakdown. Those consumers who use less than 50-kilowatt hours per month on the social rate, will see only a one cent increase in the kilowatt charges. Residential customers will be the hardest hit. The monthly service charge is going up 100% from five to ten dollars, and the first fifty kilowatts they use will cost 16% more. The rate from 51 to 200 kilowatts will go up 8% and usage above 200 kilowatts will increase by 10%.

Commercial customers will also see a sharp increase in service charge as that increases from $70 to $100, 42% more. For those customers, usage rates will also increase in every category. There are also rate increases for BEL’s industrial customers and for government which pays for streets lights.

Just how many will be affected in each sector? BEL’s Public Relations Department couldn’t say, but BEL has close to 70,000 customers, and most are in the commercial and residential brackets, while far fewer are in the social and industrial brackets. In November 2006, BEL asked for a 14% increase to put money back into the rate stabilization account, which due to the rising cost of fuel has accumulated a $26 million deficit. Now with this increase, BEL and the PUC hope to replenish it over the next four years, assuming that the world fuel prices remains relatively stable (yeah, right, and Santa Claus is for real!).

For the Belizean consumers, it’s the second in a string of price shocks. In July of last year, BEL got an 11% increase, and now there’s this 13% increase. And of course, the coup de grâce on all this will be the goods and service tax which will be charged on all bills over $150. Again, weeks after it became public knowledge, an absurdly secretive and abstruse BEL still cannot say how many consumers will be in the GST exempt brackett. But for those likely tens of thousands who are not in the exempted, by July first when GST is implemented, they will be paying 35% more for electricity than they were paying a year earlier.

The timing of the price increase could not have been worse, as it comes at the very time that Belizeans are being told of all the wonderful money saving developments in the energy sector. Projects like the Chalillo Dam, Hydro Maya, and B.S.I.’s co-generation project, not to mention the oil wells multiplying at Spanish Lookout.

On July first, consumers will also face the grim likelihood of even higher light bills caused by the implementation of the G.S.T. It is unclear at this time, however, exactly how much the new tax will add to electricity prices as the details of exemptions and zero ratings for B.E.L. have yet to be finalized. In related news, it was announced this week by the Governor General that Lynn Young, BEL’s Chief Executive Officer, has been awarded an O.B.E. by Queen Elizabeth the Second for service to business and industry. From: 7News and News5.

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