President Oscar Arias’ administration has presented a bill to the Legislative Assembly that would eliminate caps on electricity production by regional producers, a move the government hopes will help the country’s power supply keep pace with demand.
The bill would reform the Law of the Participation of Electrification Cooperatives and Municipal Public Service Businesses, in effect since 2003. Under that law, regional cooperatives can account for just 15% of the total capacity of the nation’s electricity production infrastructure.
Four regional cooperatives – Coopesantos, Coopeguanacaste, Coopealfaro Ruiz and Coopelesca – would benefit from the reform, as would the Heredia Public Services Company (ESPH), a public utility in the province of Heredia, north of San José, and the Electric Services Administrative Board of Cartago (JASEC), a utility in the province of Cartago, east of San José.
In 2007, these producers together generated 7.34% of the 8,889 gigawatt-hours produced nationwide, according to Elbert Durán, a spokesman for the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE).
All other electricity production comes from ICE, the state-owned electricity and telecommunications firm with a monopoly over both fields, and its subsidiary, the National Power and Light Company (CNFL).
The bill was presented to the Legislative Assembly on April 17.
In 2008, ICE will spend $220 million on diesel and bunker fuel to run thermal power plants to make up for shortfalls by the nation’s electricity infrastructure, which is mostly dependent on hydropower, the daily La Nación reported.
This follows the nationwide blackout that surprised Costa Ricans in April of last year, and the scheduled power outages that followed. A lack of rainfall left the reservoirs that feed hydropower too low to produce the needed juice, forcing the country to depend on outdated thermal plants. When two of those went down, there was not enough power to go around.
Critics said ICE restrictions, such as the caps on regional production, have kept the nation’s power infrastructure from expanding fast enough to keep pace with the growing demand, which is between 5% and 6% per year.