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Walter_HigginsMr Walter Higgins, CEO of Belco's parent company the Ascendant Group

The Royal Gazette article below has been enhanced with additional images.

Energy boss Walter Higgins advised families to be frugal with their electricity as he warned it could take years to provide a more efficient supply for Bermuda.

But he rejected suggestions rising bills mean bigger profits for Belco, claiming prices are virtually tied to the global price of oil.

Meanwhile Mr Higgins — the CEO of Belco's parent company the Ascendant Group — suggested the company is backing down in its court wrangle with Government over the base electricity rates.

He acknowledged the onus is on Belco to find a better solution to fund its new $70 million power station instead of through rate hikes which Government opposes.

Families are being urged to be more frugal in their use of electricity. Energy boss Walter Higgins says rising electricity bills do not mean bigger profits for Belco, but are dictated by global oil prices. (Photo by Mark Tatem) The Royal Gazette's The Cost of Living series showed how the electricity bill for an average family climbed 18 percent in four years, prompting the Family Centre to call for Belco to show more consideration during a time of shrinking wages and growing unemployment.

At any one time, about 200 customers are switched off for failing to pay their bills, but Belco says most are turned back on quickly after making arrangements to settle up.

In an interview with this newspaper yesterday, Mr Higgins said there's no choice other than to raise rates when oil prices increase.

Historical Crude Oil Prices - Crude Oil Price History Chart

“People believe and think that somehow what we charge for electricity is related to profitability,” he said.

“Almost the entirety of the variability of electricity is directly and solely connected to what the price of oil is.

“The truth of it is that, yes, embedded within our base rate is a profit on the money we spend to build the power plants, which our investors expect a return on their investment for. But that's two or three percent. The rest is related to the price of oil.

<>“We have to change the way we work electricity on the Island. We are in the process of doing that.


“That process will take years as opposed to days and weeks. In the long run we want to have a more stable, less variable, more predictable cost of electricity supply.

“We are very committed to finding a way to give the Island and its customers an electricity supply that works for them.”

Asked what he would say to residents struggling to pay their bills in the meantime, he replied: “Do everything you can to save energy, to use the least amount of energy you can to maintain your lifestyle.”

Modern technology such as energy-efficient light bulbs can help, he said, while Belco has payment plans so people can spread their bills evenly throughout the year.

“Keep talking to us. If you do think something is wrong with your meter or your bill, we have people who can help you with that,” he said.

Three months ago, Environment Minister Marc Bean rejected Belco's appeal against Government's decision not to raise base electricity rates by 3.5 percent.

The extra cash would have paid for the new power station at the Pembroke base, which is described as critical in meeting the Island's ongoing energy needs.

Belco has said it is seeking a judicial review, but yesterday Mr Higgins said it is now seeking alternative ways forward.

“There's very little that's going to be gained if all we do is battle in court and throw rhetorical things at each other,” he said.

“We have to listen to what Government says. National policy matters a lot. We are responsible to do a very good job creating electricity in the framework which Government tells us the way to do it.

“Ultimately, we serve at the pleasure of our customers, and the customers are represented by Government. Government gets to decide how much we charge. If we are not proposing things that are satisfactory for Government, we have to find another way to do it.

“We have to find a different solution to take to Government that would work for Government and our customers.”

That solution will involve making the service more reliable, replacing ageing engines and finding creative ways to deal with excess carbon, he said.

The Ascendant Group has been researching alternative methods such as wind, wave and solar power in line with recommendations from Government's Energy White Paper.

Click here for original article.

Click here to view the Ascendant Group's Annual Report for 2011 (PDF format).

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