All eyes will be watching to see just how many Bermudians opposed to BELCOs rate increase will show up at the company at 7am on Monday for the protest postponed due to inclement weather on Friday.
This after the Government launched an inquiry into how the utility company was allowed to increase costs by Regulatory Authority, and whether or not the granting of that approval was within the law.
Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Minister of Home Affairs, Walter Roban, said he had fired off a series of questions to the RA.
The company contends that the increase was necessary due to “global events”, which was approved and cleared to go into effect on October 1.
Mr Roban likened the rate hike to “a kick in the stomach”, saying: “The chief goal of those questions is to understand more fully the methodology used to determine the various rates.
”We need to be sure that the RA has considered all relevant parts of the act and exercised due diligence.
“We want to ensure that integrity and thoroughness of approach have continued with these recent decisions to dispel any doubt. To that end, we are also looking at both the requirements of the Regulatory Authority Act 2011 and those of the Electricity Act 2016. The goal is to ensure the RA is living up to its responsibilities according to the law.”
He also stated that the Government was now considering what to do next, on what action to take if it found that the RA acted unlawfully.
“We are also exploring what legal options are available for us to pursue should there have been any error of law discovered through our inquiry. I note that this process of discovery will take some time and we look forward to updating the public in due course,” he added.
“With this said, this is no mere rattling of a sabre. If there are errors in law, the RA will be held accountable and the mistakes rectified. Bermuda’s people, economy, and environment deserve no less.”
The increase amount to a nearly 50 percent to the Fuel Adjustment Rate component of electricity costs.
In the letter sent to Mark Fields, the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Regulatory Authority., The Minister asked five questions:
• What does the RA understand to be the purpose of the FAR?
• How does it take into account Sections XYZ of the RAA 2011, which stat (economic interest, etc)
• What was the methodology used for this FAR? Does it differ from the methodology of the past FARs?
• Please explain how the FAR fulfils the purposes of the Act under section 6.
• Please provide the supporting documentation of the RA’s verification of the submissions from Belco. We presume that all submissions are verified, and so we are seeking that assurance.
He also asked a series of questions on the Feed In Tarrif, a rebate that Belco gives to customers who have solar panels. The rebate was cut significantly this month.
In closing, the letter said: “Precise responses are required, and I look forward to complete responses no later than Friday, October 13, 2023, at the close of the business day.”
Meanwhile, Belco President, Wayne Caines, moved to set the record straight on the rate increase, saying there have been several misconceptions and incorrect information circulating in the community.
To clarify the increase in the Fuel Adjustment Rate from October 1, he said: “To be clear, customers’ bills are not increasing by 48 per cent.
“Only a portion of the bill will increaseT, “ he added.
“The base rate and other charges will remain the same and only the FAR will increase.
“The FAR is the total cost of purchasing and delivering fuel to Belco’s central plant and is comprised of two parts — the fuel and taxes on fuel.
“The FAR is calculated and approved by the regulator every three months and rises and falls with the global price of fuel.“
While insisting that he understood the public’s anger at the increase, he said the company’s numbers were correct and necessary.
He was also quick to note that the utility company does not have the power to control the global increase in fuel prices and fuel cost increases or decreases.
“Belco does not make any profit on the increase in the FAR as the rate is only associated with the costs associated with the fuel and taxes on fuel.
“It’s this portion and only this portion of customers’ bills that will increase.
“As an example, for the average household it equates to an approximately $52 increase in your bill. For the average household, if your bill was approximately $280, with this increase, the bill will now be approximately $330.“
Customers with any questions or concerns were urged to call Belco’s Customer Experience Team on 299-2800.