Posted: Friday, December 6, 2019. 12:58 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: The House of Representatives, on Wednesday, and the Senate today debated the Hydro Maya Power Project Bill, 2019 that seeks to give effect to certain undertakings and obligations of the Government. Those obligations are in connection with a concession agreement for the establishment and operation of a hydroelectric generating facility in Belize.
The bill also seeks to provide for certain exemptions from taxes and duties. Based in San Miguel village, Toledo District, Hydro Maya has been providing electricity to Belize Electricity Limited at a cost of 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to 31 cents paid to Mexico’s Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE). It has been actively operating since 2007 after a development concession agreement was signed in July of 1998.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow had first suggested that the late Rt. Hon. George Price had signed the 1998 agreement, which he had to walk back after a copy was unearthed and rushed to the House on Wednesday by Financial Secretary Joseph Waight. This indicated that the government of Sir Manuel Esquivel had in fact authored the original agreement, and the subsequent Said Musa administration allowed the concession. This agreement has yet to be made available to Senators.
Nevertheless, senators today stated that it does not matter. Business Senator Mark Lizarraga accused Government of “choosing winners and losers in the private sector,” arguing that the agreement ought to be revisited in view of changes in society, noting that hydroelectric plants have slipped behind other cheaper, cleaner and safer technologies such as solar lighting. Having had time to ensure a rate of return for investment, he said, their time was now up and it was now time for the owners of the project to start contributing to the economy.
Senator Osmany Salas for the non-governmental organizations and the Opposition’s Dr. Louis Zabaneh cited few benefits for the village and ecological changes to the river, as well as the prohibitive prices for which hydro-electricity is currently sold.
The Prime Minister had stated that the Government had conducted a legal review of whether the original authors had the power to agree to the concessions, which the current bill proposes to extend. As noted by Leader of Government Business Godwin Hulse, Belize Electricity Company Limited (BECOL) and other producers such as Hydro Maya own the distribution methods. There are plans for solar work with BECOL and the tourism industry, and so the concessions are not stand-alone as part of Belize’s energy supply security.
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