Electricity is expensive in Panamá. According to The Panama News, electric rates are about $.19/kWh for most of the country and about $. 26 in Bocas del Torro province. We pay $.145 /kWh, but that may be the jubilado rate. Rates where we lived in the US (which had a high percentage of hydroelectric power) ranged from just under $.05/kWh up to a certain use limit and $.06.something/kWh to yet another limit, which we never passed. Of course, that was 4 years ago, and I 'm sure the rates have increased since then. I doubt that they've doubled, though. Even if they had, the rates would still be higher here.
According to our electric bill, since we use less than 600 kWh/mo (we use under 300), we get a 25% discount on top of that. So that reduces the cost dramatically. Because we're careful about electrical usage (not draconian--just common sense) and we deliberately designed energy-saving features into our house, our monthly bill is under $30. With the July rate hike, that translates into roughly $4/mo more, taking into account the discount. I think we can lower our usage enough to minimize that hike significantly without causing a ripple in our life style. Actually, we've already started.
Most of Panamá's electricity comes from hydroelectric power, and I read somewhere that the majority of that comes from here in Chiriquí. But hydroelectric is not enough to supply all the needs, especially at peak hours, and the rest comes from fossil fuel-consuming plants. So, given the price of such fuels, the request for the rate increase is hardly a surprise.
Because of the discount for using either less than 600 kWh or less than 500 kWh (depending on who you are), most Panamanians won't be affected directly by the rate increase but of course it will affect other costs that will then be passed on to the consumer, no matter in what income level. Most likely increases are bound to be in food costs, not so much at the producer level but at the processing and distribution level. However, just about all goods and services are going to be affected.
There's an excellent article on the power generating situation in The Panama News, which covers background info, political aspects, government policies, the works. I highly recommend it.
When we first arrived here, I was astonished at the number of businesses and shops large and small in David using air conditioning--with their doors left standing wide open. For example, when El Rey opened in David, the exit doors were open just about every time we were there. Even then, I wondered at the cost in electricity--not cheap here at any time--in maintaining environmental control is such a large space. I've noticed lately that Rey's doors have been closed.
Paradoxically, in a lot of the stores downtown, the lights would be off! Sometimes it was hard to tell if a store was open or not because the interior would be unlit. It was bizarre to see a store with an unlit interior, doors open, and (inadequate) air conditioning working full blast.
We're not in David that much anymore, and when we do go, we tend to go to the smaller, more traditional shops and kioskos, with the exception of Rey and a few of the construction supply places like Cochez. So it's hard to tell whether that combination of open doors and air conditioning is as widespread as it used to be. I'll have to make it a point to check it out next time we're in town.
This hot off the press in La Prensa: prices for 95 and 91 octane gas and diesel will rise today 9, 8, and 14 cents per gallon, and be in effect until May 28. For diesel, which we use, the range of prices will be from about $4.06 to $4.13/gallon. Fortunately for us, our closest bomba usually has the lowest prices.
Yesterday's paper had an account of yet more protests in the country over a number of issues, among them the pollution of the rivers (Panamanians have a strong environmental sense) and the cost of the canasta básica. I want to write about all this, but it will have to wait until I get more time.