Two decrees spur household electrical generation

There are many options for home power. A.M. Costa Rica montage

The Chinchilla administration has asked electrical distributors to come up with pilot plans so that customers can generate their own power and market the excess.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, known as ICE, has such a pilot project but the other electrical distributors, including the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz, have not embraced the idea.

The request from the central administration was in the form of two decrees issued March 15 and published just before Easter in the La Gazeta official newspaper. The significance of the decrees was largely overlooked, according to industry sources.

“Their impact is potentially huge, but I fear this potential will only be realized if the population of the country, and the electricity consumers of the distribution companies, are aware, concerned and get involved,” said Jim Ryan of ASI Power & Telemetry, S.A. in Liberia.

“The ICE pilot program for net-metering which was introduced last year is a superb example of how a program can be constructed and implemented to support small-scale renewable energy generation,” he said. “It would be ideal if the other distributors would take the ICE pilot program contract and program regulations and merely change the name of the company from ICE to Distributor X. In fact last year ICE offered their technical and program support to any Distributors willing to adopt their model program – none accepted ICE’s offer ”

Six months ago the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad invited its customers to produce their own electricity and send the surplus to the national grid. The company restricted the offer to those generating systems that use renewable and clean sources, such as wind, solar, methane, and water. The inflow and outflow of electricity is measured as it comes and goes from the national grid, and the customer is credited with any electricity sent into the grid.

The few readers who took the energy company up on its offer reported that employees were helpful and anxious to make the connections.

Other readers complained that their electrical distributors were not allowing these types of connections. In addition to the Compañía Nacional, they are Empresa de Servicios Públicos de Heredia S. A. and Servicio Eléctrico Municipal de Cartago. These firms were named in the decree signed by President Laura Chinchilla and Teofilo de la Torre, minister of Ambienta, Energía y Telecomunicaciones.

The decrees give the firms three months to come up with a plan.

There is one catch to the current program of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. No money is returned to the homeowner who produces the electricity. Instead the company awards credits against future electrical use.

The Chinchilla decrees, however, gave the price regulator, the Autoridad Reguladora de los Servicios Públicos, two months to come up with tariffs that would promote individual production of electrical power.

The president also asked the electrical institute to come up with as quickly as possible new financing options that would accelerate the development of this type of power generation.

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said six months ago that it expected to generate about 5 megawatts from customers. The Chinchilla decrees mention 20 megawatts. Costa Rican laws are believed to allow the household production of 30 megawatts. Although exact figures depend on usage, a megawatt usually is defined as enough electricity to power 1,000 homes.

Said Ryan:

“Renewable energy generation of all sizes, both large and small, is important for the economic future of Costa Rica and all developed countries. And if we want fewer dams built on our rivers and fewer overhead transmission lines in our communities, then we must also consider installing our own small generation systems to take some of the load off of ICE and the distributors for generating and distributing power. But to have that option, we must now get consumers energized enough to help drag the distributors into the present and future reality.”

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