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Belize needs a free energy market, not more dams   by Grainne Ryder
. National Post  October 31/2001

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Fortis, Newfoundland-based power company, creating havoc tiny Central American country Belize. To build wildly uneconomic hydro dam rain forests Belize, Fortis using its monopoly powers shut out local power producers, keep out imported Mexican power, deny Belize consumers low-cost power undermine Belize's fastest growing industry, ecotourism.

Fortis, brandishing report paid Canadian International Development Agency, Canada's national foreign aid agency, touts its scheme Belize's most economical option. But CIDA document, which kept secret until its release forced under Canada's Access Information Act, turns out mishmash analyses that, if anything, disproves Fortis's claims.

If built, Chalillo dam, with paltry generating capacity 7.3 megawatts, would stand 50-metres high flood remote stretch Belize's Macal River. dam's main function would water storage chronically underperforming hydro facility further downstream, known Mollejon. Fortis bought 25-megawatt money-loser earlier year -- barely produces power dry season because too little water -- now Fortis wants build second dam upstream boost first dam's output.

price power these dams well above market rate but doesn't upset buyer power, Belize Electricity, state-protected electric monopoly. Fortis majority owner Belize Electricity, which can pass on cost its both dams its captive ratepayers.

Ratepayers will hard h maneuvering. Belize Electricity will paying Fortis nearly US9 cents per kilowatt-hour additional output dams when utility could importing more reliable electricity half price neighbouring Mexico, which already provides roughly half Belize's electricity supply. Belize's existing private power producers could undercut Fortis's price, if only were allowed to: Under current regulatory rules, are barred Fortis supplying grid except during peak power periods. Other producers, too, would enter field, if only were allowed. Belize's sugar industry produces enough sugar waste generate twice much power Chalillo bagasse-fired cogeneration plant, little six seven cents (US) per kilowatt-hour.

Thanks Fortis's monopoly, Belize consumers now suffer power rates two four times higher than Mexico other Central American countries: Belize Electricity, sweetheart deal, buys Mollejon Dam's output almost US10 cents per kilowatt-hour. That's US$2.3-million too much, calculates Ambrose Tillett, former senior hydroelectric engineer with utility. When Mollejon doesn't work -- happens every dry season -- ratepayers are on hook, not Fortis.

Fortis claims hydro power would more reliable than Mexican imports, but forgets Chalillo isn't Newfoundland, it's tropics, where chronically underperforming unreliable hydro dams are norm. Mexican electricity not only cheaper, comes some world's most reliable power plants using clean natural gas state-of-the-art combined cycle technology.

Not everyone Belize has been duped Fortis. are signs public political support its monopoly eroding rapidly. Jorge Espat, Belize's Minister National Security Economic Development, recently lambasted government its "conversion public assets into private unregulated monopolies," referring unregulated Fortis newly-privatized water utility. country's alliance conservation groups -- which opposes Chalillo dam -- has complained Belize's Public Utilities Commission Fortis used its insider position with national utility gain "fast-track approval" its preferred project, Chalillo. And Belize Reporter columnist, Meb Cutlack, one country's most outspoken critics Chalillo, writes Fortis's monopoly an "expensive evil" will keep Belizeans poor hurt country's ecotourism industry.

way lower rates, improve service poor save Macal River Valley destruction competition, argues Tony Garel, chairman national Belize environmental coalition, will Toronto's Stock Exchange tomorrow, asking why Canadian company trashing Belize's chances free power markets. He wants Belize's Public Utilities Commission abolish Fortis's monopoly introduce competition electricity generation. meantime, Fortis should see writing on wall call off its bulldozers.

Grainne Ryder policy director Toronto-based Probe International. E-mail: GrainneRyder@nextcity.com.

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