A customer-initiated petition demanding fair prices from Caribbean Utilities Company began circulating through e-mail and the Internet last week as residents noticed a big increase in their electricity bills this month.
The petition is addressed to CUC.
‘We, the undersigned, your customers, are unhappy with Caribbean Utilities Company Ltd, and will no longer continue to suffer your extortionate monthly bills, referred to as services, without challenging,’ the petition begins.
The petition complains about CUC’s practice of passing through fuel costs to customers; charging customers for its licence and registration fees; not reimbursing customers for service failures; and for increasing its net earnings 29 per cent from fiscal 2007 to fiscal 2008.
Fuel costs make up more than half of most resident’s May bill, even after a fuel duty rebate is applied.
CUC Corporate Secretary Douglas Murray said the high fuel costs were a result of the record prices of oil.
‘There is nothing we can do about that,’ he said. ‘We do not make a profit on [fuel costs].’
Mr. Murray said CUC’s rates are regulated by government and the company’s basic rates are not rising.
In April, CUC signed a new 21-1/2 year licence agreement with government for the generation of electricity. It is allowed by the licence agreement – as it was in the previous licence agreement – to pass upward fluctuations of fuel costs on to customers.
After CUC and government reached an agreement on the new licence, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said customers could expect a decrease in their electricity bills as long as the price of oil did not rise. Oil prices have since risen to record levels. It surpassed $139 a barrel on Friday and experts believe it could reach $150 a barrel by 4 July.
‘This is a cost that will continue to increase,’ Mr. Murray said of CUC’s fuel factor.
The fuel cost indicated on CUC’s May bill represent the prices the company paid in March. The fuel cost factor on electricity bills jumped more than 20 per cent from January through May, from 17.52 cents per KwH to 20.96 cents per KwH.
The future forecast is not good for consumers.
‘We expect by July, the fuel cost factor to be over 22 cents,’ Mr. Murray said.
Customers will not see the fuel cost increases relating to this month’s oil prices until August, just as the temperatures are causing peak demand here.
Consumers are not helpless to the increases, however.
‘We know the only way people can lower their bills is to reduce consumption one way or another,’ Mr. Murray said.
Reducing consumption can occur several different ways. Mr. Murray said air conditioning can account for as much as 70 per cent of an electric bill; lighting as much as 15 per cent; and water heating as much 25 per cent.
A list of conservation actions consumers can take is available at the Energy Smart Depot on CUC’s website at www.cuc-cayman.com or by calling 949-4300
Mr. Murray said the company has been loudly ‘beating the drum about conservation’ for many years.
‘We keep reminding people because it’s the one thing people can do to empower themselves against higher fuel prices,’ he said.
CUC did not comment about the specific contents in the petition prior to press time.
Minister of Works Arden McLean also did not respond to a request for comment on the matter prior to press time.