With a revision for electricity charges in the offing, what does the public feel about the proposed tariff hike? Having already implemented extensive measures to save electricity consumption, are there any more steps that can be taken to minimise electricity consumption or do the masses feel it’s time to revert to the good old days of the kerosene lamp and moonlight?
The proposed electricity tariff hike submitted to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) has sparked debate across the country, with interest groups saying the proposed formulation is a system that taxes low and medium rate consumers while not making much of an impact on the heavy consumers. While the proposal suggests a 55 - 59 % hike for low and medium level consumers, the impact made on those consuming 600 units and above is proposed to escalate only by a meagre 3-8.69%.
Experts point towards lack of planning and management and corruption within the power and energy sector of the country during the past few decades that has mounted up to the present crisis. Moreover, Sri Lanka’s reluctance to penetrate the untapped sources of alternative energy freely available in the country including solar and wind has also been highly criticised by energy sector experts, particularly in the wake of a global trend that has developed towards opting for alternative energy sources. As a result, Sri Lanka still heavily relies on hydro power as the main electricity generator to the national grid while also equally depending on thermal power that incurs a high production cost as a result of oil prices. However, irrelevant of where the fault lies, the losses incurred by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) in billions have once again been burdened onto the consumers.
Those who would be heavily affected if the proposed system is implemented expressed concern over the possibility of their electricity bill increasing by nearly two folds, perceived the supply of electricity more in the light of a curse than a blessing. Both the low and medium level consumers are frustrated about the extensive measures they have already implemented so far in order to minimise electricity consumption.
Although various options were promoted by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) itself encouraging consumers to save electricity, the proposed system provides little incentive to continue such practices.
Having already implemented extensive measures to save electricity consumption, are there any more steps that can be taken to minimise electricity consumption or do the masses feel it’s time to revert to the good old days of the kerosene lamps and moonlight?
Electricity: No longer a blessing
Rajeswaran is the sole bread-winner of his family of six. He lives with his family, cramped up in one of the line-rooms given for estate workers which had been given electricity supply about three years ago. “We were highly excited when the electricity supply was given so we would no longer have to spend the nights under a kerosene lamp. But now we feel it was more like a curse than a blessing,” Rajeswaran says.
Their average electricity consumption per month is about 86 units. “We don’t have that many electrical appliances; the equipment mostly used is the light bulbs, the iron and the pump motor. As a result of the rising electricity charges, I replaced the light bulbs with CFL bulbs and use the iron only when ironing the children’s school uniforms,” Rajeswaran says, explaining the steps they have already taken to minimise electricity consumption. In order to limit the use of the pump motor, he says his wife now walks a few kilometres daily to draw water from a nearby well.
" We have taken every measure possible to ensure our electricity consumption lies at a minimal rate but I hear that in spite of this, the tariff hike due to be implemented would increase my current bill by two folds . ."
“We have taken every measure possible to ensure our electricity consumption lies at a minimal rate but I hear that in spite of this, the tariff hike due to be implemented would increase my current bill by two folds . . .,” he said.
Employed as a labourer, he earns Rs. 380 daily but he says the wages are not even sufficient to feed his children all three meals daily and only if his number of work days exceeds 20, he is entitled to Rs. 505 per day at the end of each month. “All my five children are schooling and expenses for stationery and school transport takes up nearly Rs. 3000. The remaining amount is mostly spent on food. Under such circumstances, the electricity bill has already turned an extra financial burden. With the constant hikes on electricity tariffs, it would not be long before the bill consumes a better part of our wages. After the upcoming increase in electricity charges, I doubt my family would be in a financial position to benefit from the electricity supply; I believe it is time to revert to the kerosene lamp of old days,” he says with a sigh.
Compelled to double the efforts to minimise consumption
Devika Perera’s household which includes only her youngest daughter and herself, consumes an average amount of 150 units of electricity per month and the majority of the electricity is consumed by the pump motor used to draw water. “I am a widow and my daughter and I rely on the finances provided by my eldest daughter who has migrated. Just this month, my electricity bill was Rs. 3368 and the majority of the money we receive is spent on electricity and other utility bills,” she complains.
Devika is worried about the pending electricity tariff revision and says all her efforts to minimise the household electricity consumption would have to be doubled to avoid an exorbitant electricity bill. “I already switch off the refrigerator at least six hours per day and in the night and I make sure that until we go to bed, only a maximum of two lights are switched on. We would have to come up with other ways to save electricity because as far as I am aware, there is no concession given to those who consume below a certain amount of units. The only method available to cut down the bill would be to lower the consumption,” she said.
She further points out that having to deal with the impacts of electricity tariff revision in other spheres of daily life is another challenge she is dreading, “It is not only the electricity charges that would rise but everything starting from a loaf of bread to a bar of soap would escalate. Managing daily expenses is going to be an uphill task for people if price revisions of this type continue.”
" as far as I am aware, there is no concession given to those who consume below a certain amount of units "
The customers would have to be taxed
Dharmapala Sumanasinghe’s restaurant which has been functioning for the past two decades, consumes a significant amount of electricity, running close to an average of 750 - 800 units per month. The restaurant is open daily from 6.30 am till 11 pm and is a well known location along the Balangoda – Rathnapura route, serving hundreds of customers.
“The entire kitchen relies on various equipment ranging from coconut scrapers, blenders and cookers to dough mixers, all run by electricity throughout the day. The provisions are stored in two deep freezers and three refrigerators that are switched on day and night. . . The electrical appliances are vital for the operation I am running here and none of them can be avoided or omitted from the process,” he says.
He says the only measure that is feasible to follow is to turn off lights during the day, or when there is a relatively less amount of customers to serve. But it is only a meagre fraction in comparison to the electricity his restaurant consumes daily.
Sumanasinghe says if the proposed price revision is implemented, he would be compelled to jack up the prices of food items served in the restaurant, to keep his business afloat. “I would have to increase the prices not simply due to the increase of electricity charges but because the hike would consequently result in a price revision of the provisions we use for preparing the food. It is unfortunate, but I would be compelled to tax my customers in order to maintain the quality of the items offered at the restaurant,” he states.