Regional Public Utility Regulators Meet in Belize Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 07 November 2013 00:00

Participants of OOCUR meetingRepresentatives of public utilities regulating organizations from across the region are in Belize for the 11th Annual Meeting of the Organization of Caribbean Utility Regulators (OOCUR). The three day event which opened on Wednesday, November 6th, is being held under the theme “Challenges to Regulatory Power in Borderless Societies”. 

John Avery, Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, says the meeting will address challenges facing the region as well as individual countries. One of the main challenges facing the region is energy dependency. Most countries rely heavily on energy production from diesel and other fossil fuels which can be extremely expensive. Others purchase power from other countries which can also be expensive at times. Avery says the hope is to one day have a transmission line from Guyana to Florida which will connect the entire Caribbean under a cheap and efficient energy system. Another problem in the region is system losses; specifically in the water sector. There was a presentation on the Impact of System Losses on Consumers and the National Economy after which participants entered into a discussion sharing how they have identified and addressed system losses in their jurisdiction. Another major challenge in the water sector, is the high use of Non-Revenue Water (NRW). It is cited as a great cause of concern for regional providers. Participants discuss ways to regulate and limit the excess amount of NRW being used by expanding water systems and widening the customer base. On Thursday and Friday there will also be presentations on Market Reform and how to not be compromised when regulating state-owned enterprises, working with the media to inform the public on the regulatory process and the possible effects of radiation from energy cell sites.  

Avery says that for Belize the major challenge is to increase the broadband penetration and getting people to embrace the use of Information and Communication Technologies. He says our internet penetration is expanding but still remains low. The utility companies have the responsibility to make the services available but their effort will be fruitless if the society does not embrace the need for modern technology. A second area of priority for the Public Utilities Commission is creating an environment for energy independence. The PUC has invited individuals to present proposals for energy generating projects and forty individuals have expressed some kind of interest. Avery says that ten individuals have already formally applied to be a part of the process. Last year the Belize Electricity Limited spent about $40 million more than anticipated on cost of power. Avery says, “We desperately need to become more energy independent as a country.”

While the Public Utilities Commission is making strides in its goal of making sure that internet access and quality potable water is available to all Belizeans in an energy independent nation, it still has many issues to resolve which dates back to pre-PUC times. There are several utility contracts that were signed by the previous government with companies that are not licensed by the PUC. Avery says those hinder the organizations ability to effectively regulate such companies thus creating an unleveled playing field. Nevertheless, the Commission is committed to ensuring that consumers are receiving the best and most efficient services possible.