National energy plan fails to consider the price tag

Like so many of the government’s proposals, the latest plan for energy seems more like dreaming.

President Luis Guillermo Solís announced the plan Monday night in Cartago, and it outlines a magnificent future. Transportation is by vehicles that run on clean energy. Households produce their own electricity with the surplus going into the national grid.   The production and distribution of electricity is managed better, and laws promote better utilization.

Of course, what the president proposes does not include how a country that is more than broke is going to pay for it. And bureaucracy rules.

One aspect of the plan involves residents who produce their own electricity. That was the subject of an Aug. 21 decree that the president issued. The decree was basically what the national regulatory agency had presented.

Instead of overriding the rules of the Autoridad Reguladora de Servicios Públicos, Solís fortified them. Both the regulatory agency and Solís have determined that those with solar or wind systems will have to pay for electricity that is sent to the national grid. In addition, those small-scale producers can only recover 49 percent of the power they have placed on the grid when they need it later.

The whole system seems designed to delay and penalize homeowners who generate electricity, and those in the business of installing such systems agree with that assessment. A more reasonable system would pay small-scale producers for producing electricity rather than charging them.

Specifically Article 28 of the presidential decree says that the producer-consumer will pay monthly to the distributing firm according to the rate that is in force and approved by the regulating agency.

The plan seems more like a way to protect the state power company, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The proposal has frozen the installation of new systems that were to be connected to the national grid.

Then there is the matter of collective transport, which the national energy plan supports. For now that would mean the rail system, although former San José mayor Johnny Araya had proposed an ambitious trolley system.

The current rail service runs on petroleum, although plans have been proposed to convert it to electricity. A bill to do that is in the legislature.

The most current controversy is the rail institute’s plan to more than double the fares. Passengers have complained of crowded rail cars and uncomfortable situations.

The Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles says it needs $600 million more to extend trackage and satisfy customers complaints.

Of course, that will involve more borrowing from international agencies, something that will increase the country’s debt.

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