Families are urged to be economical with electricity use

Energy boss Walter Higgins advised families to be frugal with their electricity as he warned it could take years to provide a more efficient supply for Bermuda.

But he rejected suggestions rising bills mean bigger profits for Belco, claiming prices are virtually tied to the global price of oil.

Meanwhile Mr Higgins — the CEO of Belco’s parent company the Ascendant Group — suggested the company is backing down in its court wrangle with Government over the base electricity rates.

He acknowledged the onus is on Belco to find a better solution to fund its new $70 million power station instead of through rate hikes which Government opposes.

The Royal Gazette’s The Cost of Living series showed how the electricity bill for an average family climbed 18 percent in four years, prompting the Family Centre to call for Belco to show more consideration during a time of shrinking wages and growing unemployment.

At any one time, about 200 customers are switched off for failing to pay their bills, but Belco says most are turned back on quickly after making arrangements to settle up.

In an interview with this newspaper yesterday, Mr Higgins said there’s no choice other than to raise rates when oil prices increase.

“People believe and think that somehow what we charge for electricity is related to profitability,” he said.

“Almost the entirety of the variability of electricity is directly and solely connected to what the price of oil is.

“The truth of it is that, yes, embedded within our base rate is a profit on the money we spend to build the power plants, which our investors expect a return on their investment for. But that’s two or three percent. The rest is related to the price of oil.

“We have to change the way we work electricity on the Island. We are in the process of doing that.

“That process will take years as opposed to days and weeks. In the long run we want to have a more stable, less variable, more predictable cost of electricity supply.

“We are very committed to finding a way to give the Island and its customers an electricity supply that works for them.”

Asked what he would say to residents struggling to pay their bills in the meantime, he replied: “Do everything you can to save energy, to use the least amount of energy you can to maintain your lifestyle.”

Modern technology such as energy-efficient light bulbs can help, he said, while Belco has payment plans so people can spread their bills evenly throughout the year.

“Keep talking to us. If you do think something is wrong with your meter or your bill, we have people who can help you with that,” he said.

Three months ago, Environment Minister Marc Bean rejected Belco’s appeal against Government’s decision not to raise base electricity rates by 3.5 percent.

The extra cash would have paid for the new power station at the Pembroke base, which is described as critical in meeting the Island’s ongoing energy needs.

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