Jolted by electric bills, stay-at-home Thailand wants rate cuts

Photo: Nicholas Wang / Flickr
Photo: Nicholas Wang / Flickr

In the hottest month of the year at a time many are home all day, utility  customers are getting a shock from their power bills.

Complaints have flooded social media, sending #ExpensiveElectricityBill to trend on Thai Twitter today, from people saying their bills were outrageously high and even demanding the government take action to offset their pain as they abide by orders to stay at home. In response, Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong said today that he had called a meeting with utility representatives to find a solution.

“Staying at home to stop the disease, but it doesn’t stop us from using electricity. Normally, I stay home 10-12 hours, but now it’s 24,” Twitter user @Deejaija2 wrote. “I’m not surprised the bills are double, but it would be nice if the government offers to cut it around 30%. The 3% only covers the cost of charging my phone battery.”

Sontirat said his meeting with agencies including the Energy Regulatory Commission and Metropolitan Electricity Authority would examine ways to lower electricity bills for the public, many of whom are home during peak hours rather than a workplace due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In early April, the government ordered three state electricity agencies to cut rates by 3% for all households through June. But when April bills started arriving in recent days, some households said they had gone up double or even triple. 

That seemed mostly due to higher consumption and the fact that utility customers pay higher rates as their consumption increases. Still, if anyone doubts their bill was calculated correctly, the Metropolitan Electricity Authority says they can calculate it for themselves online.

Peak demand in March increased over April by about 6.5%, from nearly 8,200 megawatts to just about 8,700 megawatts. There was no ready year-on data to compare that to usual seasonal variation.

But while the utility points to progressive rates to explain the increases, many customers are demanding help in the form of relief by upward of 30% to 40%, often in frustrated terms.

“Even the electricity bills are more progressive than our future,” actress-TV host Inthira Charoenpura wrote sarcastically.

“The proposal that the government should offer to cut electricity bills 30-50 percent is a proposal that understands people’s struggles. It’s reasonable and will practically help people,” political scientist Prajak Kongkeerati wrote on Twitter at @Bkksnow.

“Many may not know that the electricity bills are calculated at a progressive rate because previously they didn’t use this much electricity. But that’s not the point. The point is that people are staying at home more because of the stay-at-home order from the government, therefore they should be offered discounts of 30-50 percent, not only 3 percent,” social commentator Sarinee Achavanuntakul wrote.

People not working in essential services have been told to stay home since late March, and an overnight curfew has been in place in Bangkok. Health officials today reported 27 new cases but no additional fatalities due to the novel coronavirus. That brings the total to 2,792 confirmed infections and 47 deaths since the outbreak began, though testing remains limited.

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