Sparks Fly In Utila… Literally

June 19th, 2003
by Jaime Johnston

[private] The price of power remains a source of conflict in Utila as the Utila Power Company (UPCO) introduced 24-hour electricity to the island. On May 26, 780 Utilan households were connected with UPCO’s electricity with much debate over the company’s rates. In the following weeks, officials in the municipality held several meetings with UPCO executives to negotiate a rate that would appease both parties. This resulted in a decrease from the proposed 4.25 Lps. per kilowatt hour to a rate of 3.57 Lps./kh. UPCO proposed charging 4,275 Lps. per household for the new pay-as-you-go meters and that price was reduced to 1,000 Lps. after yet another meeting with the local government.

The residents of Utila were not satisfied with these results and the alcaldia organized a town meeting to discuss the issue. Attended by the mayor’s staff, the Bay Islands Governor and UPCO representatives, the meeting drew a record 500 residents hoping to air their frustrations.

After a presentation by UPCO President Robert Blenker, there was an open forum to address questions from the public. The main and most heated point of debate was the new cost of power which doubled the previous rate of 1.35 Lps./kh. “A lot of people are struggling here and they really can’t pay this much. Here in Utila, we stick together. If we didn’t get a new rate, we were going to boycott UPCO,” said Utila resident Hank Castillo Jr. Impassioned negotiations between the residents and UPCO yielded a compromise; UPCO waived the 1,000 Lps. meter fee and promised a rate of 2.5 Lps./kh for the first 90 days of service.

“We have listened to and understand the economical concerns of the people on this island. But, we have to balance these concerns with the operational requirements of the company,” said Brian Renehan, UPCO’s assistant general manager. Renehan maintains that the cost is higher than the previous rate because of the improved reliability of UPCO’s electricity supply. He outlined that, at the new rate, UPCO can only continue to provide such service until September 6 and cites the tariffs as the company’s main obstacle thus far.

Mayor of Utila, Alton Cooper, has formed a commission to monitor the issue. The mayor explained that, at the end of 90 days, UPCO has agreed to allow the review of their finances. This review will enable the municipality to compare UPCO’s costs with the revenue and then, establish a rate that is fair to all involved. Renehan suggested that this analysis may result in an agreement that holds UPCO to a 10% profit.

Guanaja’s electric company has a rate of 3.48 Lps./kh whereas Roatan’s power supplier, RECO, charges 14 Lps. for the first ten kilowatt hours and a rate of 2.56 Lps./kh after that. Members of the new Utila commission plan to travel to Roatan and Guanaja to investigate their respective strategies and to learn more about RECO’s government subsidy program. The commission hopes that a comparable process can be implemented in Utila.

“Utila is very happy to have 24-hour electricity and we think UPCO is an excellent company. We are all working to ease the concerns that the people have. It just has to come at a reasonable price for everyone,” said Mayor Cooper. [/private]

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