Several experts in the electricity sector interviewed by Prensa Libre, agree that after two and a half decades of the LGE, there have been achievements, but they are not enough, since the coverage is still incomplete.
The sources consulted are: Alberto Pimentel, Minister of Energy and Mines; Rodrigo Fernández, president of the National Electric Power Commission (CNEE); Carmen Urizar and Carlos Colom, former presidents of the CNEE; Edgar Navarro, president of the Wholesale Market Administrator (AMM); Raúl Bouscayrol, vice president of the Guatemalan Chamber of Industry (CIG), and José González, president of the Association of Generators with Renewable Energy (Ager).
One of the most mentioned results is the increase in electricity coverage, since the country went from electrification of around 58% of the population in 1995 to 89.26% in 2021, according to the MEM. Although in 2016 it was mentioned that it had reached 92%, with the results of the Population and Housing Census the data was adjusted to 88.14% in 2018.
So, among the challenges that are discussed the most, the first is to bring electricity coverage to almost 11% of the population that still does not have that service, which represents more than 400 thousand households.
In a census that the MEM implemented in 2020 and 2021, it has already located 101 thousand homes without power, in 1,330 communities in 72 municipalities, which are part of 10 priority departments, including Alta Verapaz. Quiché, Izabal.
Normally, that last 10% is the most expensive because access to energy has to be taken to more remote and dispersed places, so the installation cost is higher (line, transformers and equipment), says González.
Pimenten highlights the support of the Inde to expand rural electrification, apart from that an external loan is still pending approval from Congress to continue with that objective, and invites the distributors to join in investing.
Diversification of the generation matrix
The growth and diversification of the electricity generation matrix is highlighted, since more than 60% of the energy produced is already generated with renewable resources, which results in that of 810.9 mevagatios (MW) installed in 1990, there is now a installed capacity of more than 3,400 MW, while demand is at 1,920 MW, according to data from the MEM and the AMM.
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Current production exceeds 11,100 gigawatt hours (GWh) and consumption, 10,600 GWh annually, so that around 1,000 GWh are exported to the region annually.
In this aspect there are also alerts. In 2008, it began a process to achieve the installation of new power generation with long-term contracts, which sought to increase capacity, diversify the matrix and lower prices.
Three tenders were successful, with more than 800 new MW; the last one was awarded in 2013. But the fourth tender called in 2020, which required 400 MW, was suspended arguing that, derived from the coronavirus pandemic, conditions were not optimal.
Follow the conflict
Another challenge is the conflict originated in the rejection of power generators with renewable resources, especially against hydroelectric plants, a disagreement that has also reached the installation of transmission networks.
Communities or groups have criticized the lack, in some cases, of prior community consultations with indigenous populations in the area of influence of the projects and the way to take advantage of natural resources, in addition to the fact that user prices should be lower, as they point out constant billing of the service with excessive charges, due to the municipal public lighting rate.
Energy theft is also mentioned by the electricity sector as another challenge to be solved. Out of discontent arose an organized group that has asked users not to pay for the service to the distributors and have even come to ask again for the nationalization of the service.
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The private sector sees it from another point of view and emphasizes that there are more than 4 thousand complaints of energy theft against these groups, said recently the president of the Guatemalan Chamber of Industry (CIG) Luis Alfonso Bosch.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) has issued various resolutions and filed lawsuits for distributors to avoid community courts for non-payment, since they affect users who do pay.
Due to failures, maintenance or community power cuts due to non-payment, each semester there are more than 30 thousand blackouts throughout the country according to data from the CNEE.
Challenges to extend the generation
Conflict or lack of interest in investing has also had other effects that, to a certain extent, reflect stagnation of the generation matrix. Ager announced this year about Q3 thousand 850 million in investments for hydroelectric plants are stagnant after between 8 and 10 generation projects have not managed to advance due to conflict. The electricity sector estimates that more than US $ 10 billion have been invested in 25 years.
In addition, if there are no long-term tenders, the interest in making large investments is not encouraged by other sources in the sector, so they see it necessary to continue promoting these events not only because of volume and terms, but also because of the need for the country to be able to keep updating generation technologies.
The sector also qualifies as positive the drop in the price of energy driven by the diversification of the energy matrix that helped reduce the use of fossil fuels.
However, consumers and dissatisfied groups still question the billing amounts mentioned, apart from the need to lower the charge for public lighting:
User rates fell between 13% and 47%, depending on the consumer segment and the distribution company, between 2012 and 2016 as an effect of the new generation contracts
However, according to the behavior in recent years, each quarter has reported slight increases, which represent increases of between 17% and 19% in the non-social rate between 2016 and 2021. And for the social rate, the increases range from 3 % to 9%. This last segment receives a subsidy for users who consume up to 89 kilowatt hours per month.
Regarding wholesalers, the average per MW decreased from US $ 57.33 in 2000 to US $ 41.15 in 2020. (That value, if expressed in current 2000 dollars, would be equivalent to US $ 18.54 in 2020, details the AMM) .
And as indicated above, it is also necessary to resolve the issue of public lighting so that charges are calculated objectively and technically by the municipalities, indicate the interviewees.
The idea that continues to be used is that it goes from charging a fixed amount to a percentage and that people pay less, since sometimes they are not analyzed in a technical way and users end up paying more for public lighting, than for their consumption in home.
Bouscayrol indicates that there are abuses by some mayors and in many municipalities, this charge causes a distortion in the energy bill, but believes that it should be defined based on a real proportion of what is consumed by public lighting in the municipality, which is not it has nothing to do with how much energy is consumed in each house.