Electrical generating plan is big benefit for residents

Mr. Douglas makes the point that Costa Rica has some of the highest electricity prices in the world…. and as such causing hardship for consumers.* What is more worrisome is that while the rest of the world is trying to shake its addiction to oil, Costa Rica is moving towards increased oil consumption at breakneck speed. The addition of the 200 MW (now the largest power plant in the country!) Garabito Thermal Generation Plant is, as Vice President Piva has acknowledged, a “blunder,” and a textbook example of both poor planning and execution. When world oil prices are hovering at well above $90 a barrel (even before the world’s economy recover and demand increases!), and oil consumption for power generation here increased 50 percent last year, this blunder is undeniable, especially for a society committed to carbon neutrality.

However, I have some very good news to offset the above gloom! As previously reported in A.M. Costa Rica on Oct. 25, an announcement that most consumers don’t fully understand, The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad has introduced a progressive new program which invites consumers to generate their own power. This “net-metering” program is a benefit that our company has worked for over three years to introduce and which affords residential, commercial and industrial customers served by ICE to generate part or all of their own power requirements. Given the two price increases ICE has already applied for in 2011 totaling approximately 12 percent for residential clients this option is increasingly attractive. (The government has also recently enacted legislation which allows us to import renewable energy generation equipment free of ALL taxes, ergo our clients pay no import duties nor 13 percent sales taxes on their solar panels!).

Naturally the consumers best positioned to take advantage of this program to invest in solar or wind generation are the most affluent families. However, we are working to introduce a special program whereby even modest homes can invest in small systems of one or two solar panels and also achieve lower long-term electricity costs and a reduced carbon footprint. A combination of economical equipment and advantageous micro-financing will support this effort.

However, the ICE program which supports this effort is a two-year pilot program or experiment and not yet codified in law or regulation. To make it a success, we need consumers to be aware of it and participate. And we need our leaders (ministers & diputados) and regulators (ARESEP) to support ICE’s bold move and make this program a permanent fixture and available to all consumers, not just those mostly rural consumers served directly by ICE’s distribution company. Customers of the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, the municipal distributors and all the cooperativas should also be able to participate. All Costa Rican consumers should have the right to control their electricity prices by investing in their own power generation, meanwhile helping to reduce the likelihood of future power shortages as predicted by ICE.

Next consumers need to consider an electric vehicle to be charged by their own solar panels, and that would really help move Costa Rica toward carbon neutrality!

Jim Ryan
President, ASI Power & Telemetry, S.A.

*Footnote: Context is important in considering his statement. Electricity prices here are indeed double and triple the prices that most North Americans are accustomed to paying, this despite our having such a high percentage of hydro and renewable resources. But when compared to other Central American countries, Costa Rica prices are significantly lower than most, and the quality of service is generally better. Meanwhile service is available to approximately 98 percent of the population.

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