Surging power bills spark anger

Surging power bills spark anger

Sontirat calls in electricity suppliers

Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong will meet power authorities urgently on Monday to iron out growing complaints by households over unusually high electricity bills.

Many social media users were taken aback by their electricity bills having doubled, or even tripled, in the past month.

They are demanding the government find a solution, insisting they have worked from home to prevent Covid-19 spreading and it is now time for the government to help them with the resulting increase in demand for electricity. Several complaints said the increase -- even given the increase in demand -- were still abnormally high.

On his Facebook, Mr Sontirat said yesterday he would call an urgent meeting with the Energy Regulatory Commission and related agencies to decide on electricity-related measures, on top of those already rolled out to help alle­viate the plight of the public.

The measures already in place are free electricity for small households, returning the home electricity meter deposit to 21 million households and a temporary 3% discount on electricity rates.

Many complainants said they had used the deposit return to pay the steep bills.

In his tweet, Mr Sontirat, also secretary-general of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, said in response to the complaints: "I'm not taking the matter lightly."

Senator Kamnoon Sidhisamarn, on his Facebook, conveyed the experience of a friend who lives in a tiny condominium and usually paid between 1,600 baht and 1,900 baht a month before the stay-at-home policy came.

His latest bill shows he owed 3,400 baht. The 3% discount works out to around 100 baht, which is not much, Mr Kamnoon said.

The senator said the government should waive the first 1,000 baht of electricity charges and offer a 50% discount for the rest of the bill over the next three months. "That would help them cope with financial burden during the current crisis," Mr Kamnoon said.

Mr Kamnoon, a member of the Senate standing committee on tackling poverty and social disparity, asked Mr Sontirat take up on his idea and pass it to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

A Facebook user named Nattee Taweesit said his power bill surged from 1,800 baht to 3,800 baht, and later to 6,000 baht last month. He called the hike outrageous.

"Even if three more air conditioners and two refrigerators were installed, the charge shouldn't have jumped three or four times," he said. "This is a household, not a factory," he added.

Pol Lt Col Ekkarat Hun-ngam, chief of Bang Saphan Noi police station in Prachuap Khiri Khan who ran in last year's general election under the Thai Liberal Party's banner, said his electricity bill has risen from 900 baht to 2,000 baht a month.

His post drew responses from other Facebook users who shared a similar experience about rising electricity costs over the past few months.

Meanwhile, Somphong Prempri, governor of Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA), said consumers with queries about their bills should inform the PEA. A major spike in electricity bills may have stemmed from an increase in energy consumption during the hot summer months.

However, he admitted a three-fold increase is not normal and needs to be looked at. Electrical leakage can also cause high bills, he said, adding the PEA usually compensates consumers in that case.

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