Monday, May 13, 2013

Sixty units are enough for many

Dhanesh Wisumperuma

The Nation, 12-05-2013, p. 8

If a person can use a refrigerator and washing machine rationally, still the consumption of electricity could be limited to less than 90 units

The electricity tariff issue was not settled until the middle of the last week. Various issues are raised in the society and in newspapers, all of those could be summarized as following; the issues related to the reality of the relief provided for the consumers, who use less than 60 units, the scale of the relief provided for consumers, who fall between 60-180 units, the effort of the opposition political parties and trade unions trying to highlight the insufficient nature of relief and the sluggish nature of the government authorities in action beyond President’s promise.

Now the situation has changed again. The PUC has approved a new alternative tariff structure on May 9 after rejecting the revised proposal submitted by the Ceylon Electricity Board on the 7th. This new tariff system is different from the original and the revised proposals submitted by the Ceylon Electricity Board mainly on the basis of tariff structure. The CEB proposed a new tariff structure technically known as ‘Volume Differentiated Tariff’ (VDT) structure where consumers were to be billed for the total number of units on the rate of the block where their total consumption belongs to. This was highly criticized by many in the society. Under the old structure, known as ‘Increasing Block System’ (IBT), the consumers were billed in blocks which were priced at different rates. The PUC alternative structure has selected the old IBT structure again, with differences in unit rates, the necessity of which was highlighted by many including us.

Did consumers receive a relief?

During the May Day speech, President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced that there will be no rise in the electricity tariff for the consumers who use up to 60 units of electricity per month. However, a number of news reports and persons revealed last week, that the actual full relief will be available for the consumers who use less than 30 units. Those who use 30-60 units were in danger of being affected of the price hike, at a lower rate due to the VDT system as they were to be charged for whole 60 units at the rate of the block from 30-60 units. This seems to be settled with the new system of approved by PUC by last week. See the table for the PUC approved rates. It shows their have been certain alterations in unit rates (for consumers above 60 units), fuel adjustment charges and in fixed charges.

In the letter issued to the Authorized Officer of CEB, the PUC says that the CEB proposal dated May 7 was not fully in line with the government policy on concessions declared by the President on May 1. The PUC also rejects Volume Differentiated Tariff structure based on matters pointed out on the public consultations too – unfair and very high increases at the block transition points (i.e. at the 61st, 91st, 121st units), reduction of the monthly bill of large consumers, etc. The letter points that this VDT structure was tried by the Water Board and also shifted back to an IBT structure.

The new system consists of different pricing formulas for domestic consumers below 60 units and for those who consume more than 60 units as seen in the table above. Consumers, who use less than 60 units (kWh), are charged at Rs.3 for the first 30 units and Rs. 4.70 for the next 30 units. Consumers who consume 60 or more units will receive these first sixty units at a rate of Rs.10 per unit. The block of 61 to 90 is priced at lower rate at Rs.12 a unit, which is less than the average production costs. Then the unit prices will go up. However, there is a certain reduction of the charge for users within 60 to 180 units too.

This is commendable as this tariff system fulfills two main objectives – providing a relief for the needy low income groups and promoting the consumers to use of electricity at low levels. This promotes a consumer to stay within 90 units, better below 60.


Sixty units sufficient for many

According to the electricity authorities, the total number of households that use electricity at a rate of less than 60 units per month exceed about 2.5 million. That is about half of the total number of electricity consumers of the country and they are the people who use electricity for their basic needs and mostly the low middle income community. There is no argument of providing them a relief that should be provided.
There was an interesting statement by Tissa Attanayake, the General Secretary of the UNP. He has recently said that the May Day pledge not to enforce the electricity tariff hike on consumers using less than 60 units was meaningless, since it could only light up two bulbs over a period of one month.

Further, a somewhat shared Facebook comment has shown that to live below a 60 unit limit one had to change his entire lifestyle. The post suggested leaving the town, wash and bath in a river, exempt from refrigerator use and ironing and watching television less. The theory was that one cannot live below that limit. Is it so? No, there are lots of things one can do within 60 units and many people are doing so.

What we can do from a 60 units of electricity is higher than the normal. You can use following equipment in an appropriate manner, if used moderately or fairly.
Lighting four 20 Watt CFL bulbs for 5 hours a day for a month will cost you about 15 units. (A 20 Watt CFL bulb will provide a light similar to a 100 Watt incandescent bulb and we do not want such a light everywhere in our houses. Also many houses use CFLs for at least for the areas that are lighted more time). Using a 1000 Watt electric iron for 20 minutes a day for a month will cost you 10 units. Watching a color medium sized LED television (that consumes about 75 Watt) for 4 hours a day will cost about 10 units a month. Use of 2 table fans (about 50 Watt) per 8 hours a day will cost 24 units a month. The total energy use of those above will be about 59 units. These are among the essentials of the modern day life and a person can use those rationally within 60 units. Even one can reduce some of the above usages and appliances, by just being thinking twice.

One can ask me whether the refrigerators are non essentials. The Greendex index developed by the National Geographic is an index that shows how eco-friendly or green you are based on some basic questions. It is calculator, there was a question asking the number of refrigerators in one’s household. It started from one (1) until a friend of mine, a veterinary surgeon who is keen on environment and also loves living a simple life, suggested starting it from zero (0) as there are many households with zero fridges! The creators of the index accepted it and changed the question. I think it is so for the washing machines.

If a person can use a refrigerator and washing machine rationally, still the consumption of electricity could be limited to less than 90 units. There are refrigerators and washing machines which consume low amount of electricity if used fairly. Furthermore, nearly 75% of the domestic consumers use less than 90 units.

Need of sustainable consumption

The campaign against the electricity tariff hike on stage seems to be asking for a total abolishment of the electricity price hike. Some of them are asking for a relief for all types of consumers including the high electricity consumers, who are not willing to reduce their consumption at any case. Knowingly or unknowingly, they are promoting over consumption, something which is a cause for most of the environmental issues. Some of these have vested interests, sure.

The need of the day is to conserve electricity and promote sustainable consumption. In other words, the country needs to promote rational and sustainable use of electricity to avoid blackouts. Some of the attitudes on electricity use should be changed. This is an opportunity for such an initiative. In the engineering point of view, the considerable price hike is available for the middle level electricity users (120-180 units) could promote them to reduce their power consumption.

A touching advertisement shown last week on the television provided a good initiative, highlighting the fact the people have to play their part now. Yes, it is true, but this clip is too long. It should be shortened to be effective and should be shown before each of the mega tele-dramas. I saw this on a state-owned television channel that telecasts four mega tele-dramas during between 7.30 and 9.30 pm and more in day time! They are promoting people to watch all programs including these while promoting to conserve electricity.

Slow nature of relief action

Meanwhile, there was a notable slowness in the action of the state sector agencies in implementation President’s relief on the electricity hike. Ceylon Electricity Board took some time to submit a revised tariff scheme on May 7. This sluggish action caused the people to speculate whether the President’s relief was just a mere speech made at a rally only. Finally, the Public Utilities Commission approved a revised (or may be their own) tariff system on Thursday the 9th.

Here the state sector should take an example from the private sector. Various companies and vendors selling electronic equipment have launched a huge promotion and an advertising campaign to sell their products since the new tariff system was announced in April. Some of those equipment labeled as ‘power saving’, ‘low energy consuming’, etc are, in fact, actually energy saving as the global trend in technology is to produce energy efficient equipment. Further, there are certain lottery offers where certain vendors offer to pay the electricity bill of this month of the winners who shop with them. When we think deeply, this is another example of the consumerism in an open economy, but their prompt action is the important fact here – rapid action of the private sector.

People should be vigilant and rational as there are vested interests everywhere.

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