Despite a warning from the Minister of Finance on its impending implementation, neither the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) nor the Minister of Public Utilities know exactly when the public will have to pay more for electricity.
This is largely because the Regulated Industries Commission (RIC) is still in the process of completing the price review process for T&TEC.
Yesterday, T&TEC general manager Curvis Francois told Guardian Media, “What they (RIC) indicated is that they have to submit it (the final report) to the Government and I think they may have done it already, I am not sure, but the Government will basically indicate to us through our line ministry whenever that time comes for the determination to be put into effect.”
Francois did not want to speculate on any possible timelines but said whatever is recommended and approved will be implemented soon after.
“It is urgent because currently, for every kilowatt-hour that we sell, we actually lose roughly about 13 cents,” Francois explained.
Minister Colm Imbert, during his 2024 Budget presentation, explained that T&TEC could not even pay for natural gas at current rates, and this costs the National Gas Company over $500 million annually. Compounding that was a debt of $1.4 billion owed to T&TEC by the State, which was revealed by Minister Marvin Gonzales in May this year.
Francois said the final determination from the RIC may already be in Minister Gonzales’ hands for approval.
However, contacted yesterday, Gonzales said, “They (RIC) have not notified me. All I was told is that the review has reached an advanced stage.”
Guardian Media yesterday asked the RIC when the process would be completed.
It responded, “The RIC continues to work on the completion of its Price Review Process for T&TEC, as it continues to ensure the final determination document is fully representative of its extensive research, comments received and comprehensive review of all information collected. At this time, the RIC does not have a specific date for the completion of this exercise and will inform the public when it is ready to release its final determination for the electricity transmission and distribution sector for the period 2023-2027.”
This answer was similar to the one given by the RIC in August.
The RIC said the document will thereafter be sent to T&TEC, which will be guided by the RIC’s decisions.
It also revealed to Guardian Media that water rates were also under scrutiny.
“The RIC is focusing on completing the T&TEC price review while simultaneously doing readings and research on the water and wastewater sectors,” it stated.
The RIC made public its proposed changes to T&TEC rates in December 2022, and the increases ranged from 15 per cent to as high as 64 per cent for residential customers based on kilowatt consumption. Commercial customers faced percentage increases ranging from 51 per cent to 63 per cent.
Since then, the RIC has held 15 consultations throughout the country. People who participated fiercely rejected the move, saying the cost of living was already high.
The Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) echoed concerns about rate hikes yesterday, saying it was disappointed with what was said by Minister Imbert on public utilities.
General secretary Ozzi Warwick said, “We thought the Government would have announced that they were going to review the onerous power purchase agreement that they have with these independent producers of electricity. So that these independent producers pay NGC for the gas that they are using. The other thing we hoped we would have heard is the Government willing to do good on the monies that they owe T&TEC, around $1.3B. If those were addressed, then T&TEC would have been in a more favourable financial position to deliver on its mandate to provide a public good for this country.”
Warwick said Imbert needed to be reminded that a utility service should be people and not profit-centred.
“Why are you increasing on ordinary people...,” he posited.
He added that not enough was said about the struggles of T&TEC’s workers.
“We would have thought we would have heard that the minister would have announced what is being put in place for the safety and security of these workers who are clearly risking their lives to ensure a reliable supply of electricity, and this goes for the WASA and TTPOST workers,” Warwick said.
However, in the 2024 State Enterprises Investment Programme, $69.22m has been allocated for upgrading T&TEC’s security and protection infrastructure while $98.12m is for upgrading equipment and facilities.