Govt to Poll Public on Planned Electricity Rate Rise

By San Yamin Aung 11 November 2013

The Ministry of Electric Power will conduct a public opinion survey on a proposed rate hike for some electricity consumers in Burma, with the results of the polling to be reported to Parliament, the minister of electricity said during a meeting at the Myanmar Peace Center on Sunday.

On Friday, Parliament approved a motion to reconsider the electricity price rise, slated to take effect Nov. 1, pending a parliamentary review.

Since the government announced late last month that it would hike electricity rates by up to 100 percent for some, public opposition to the move has taken the form of street protests in Rangoon and calls from businesses for a reassessment of the plan.

Minister for Electric Power Khin Maung Soe said at the Sunday meeting, broadcast by state-run MRTV, that the decision to increase electricity fees was made in order to cover rising costs of power production and to help fund an expansion of the electricity grid in Burma, which remains significantly behind its regional neighbors in terms of electrification.

Despite the increased costs facing the ministry, Khin Maung Soe said on Sunday that the government would take heed of public opinion before implementing the plan.

“We want to provide more electricity lines and power supply for those who are paying electricity bills much higher than other cities, and we want electricity to be received by all states and regions in the country equally,” the minister said.

Currently, Arakan State and some places in Tenasserim Division charge more than 400 kyats per unit of electricity. That rate is four times the price that the average household in Rangoon would be charged under the proposed increase.

“If the people here pay a little more in electricity fees, as in other states, it can cover the costs of extending more electricity lines and boosting power supply in other states,” he said.

According to data from the Ministry of Electric Power, only about 30 percent of the country’s population is connected to the national electricity grid. Households and businesses that are supplied under the ministry’s jurisdiction would be subject to the planned electricity rate increase.

“Businessmen in Yangon [Rangoon] and Mandalay reported to us that they accept the electricity rate hike but they want to postpone it for a while and want a more regular electricity supply,” the minister said.

Though Burma’s overall electrification remains low, it has grown sharply in recent years. In 2010, the country consumed about 1,420 megawatts of electricity over the 12-month period, and this year during the rainy season, from approximately April through September, 2,860 megawatts of electricity was used, according to Ministry of Electric Power data.

Over the course of the hot season now in its infancy, about 2,370 megawatts will be used, the Ministry of Electric Power estimates.

“Businessmen who operate freezers, such as ice production, and fish and meat production, are saying that they won’t have any profits left if their electricity bill doubles, as most of their costs come from power,” Kyaw Soe Tun, secretary of Hlaing Tharyar 5 Industrial Zone Management Committee, told The Irrawaddy earlier this month.

Toe Nandar Tin, treasurer of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation Products Processors and Exporters Association, said the electricity price increase would translate to higher consumer prices for fresh products that must be cooled, such as meat and fish.

“I am happy to hear that they will take public opinions on changing the fees,” said Thidar, a general store owner in Rangoon’s Mayangone Township.

On Oct. 29, the Yangon City Electricity Supply Board (YESB) announced that households consuming more than 101 units of electricity per month would have to pay 50 kyats (US$0.05) per unit, a price increase of about 40 percent.

Businesses that consume between 1 to 5,000 units of electricity per month would experience a 35 percent increase and pay 100 kyats per unit starting Nov. 1. Companies using more than 5,000 units would see their electricity bills double as rates are slated to jump from 75 kyats to 150 kyats per unit.