in Tropical Life

Panama’s High Cost of Electricity

on occasion I visit The Panama Forum. I like to sip my morning coffee on the balcony while I read what other expats (and locals) are saying about [tag]Panama[/tag]. Once in a while (re: when Eric Jackson posts) there’s helpful, interesting, verifiable information presented.

Most times its just folks searching for (or opining about) lawyers, contractors, realtors, politics, and good places to live. As you might imagine there’s a fair amount of arguing and whining going on. Recently there’s been considerable bitching about the [tag]high cost of electricity[/tag] in Panama.

Most press reports I read claim the cost of electricity is high here. Recently,[tag] La Prensa [/tag]reported electric rates will be going up 9% this year. And that “the goverment subsidized 7 of every 10 Panamians using less than 200 kilowatt hous a month”. It also claims there will be an investigation into possible price manipulation by Panama’s regulating agency.

In other words, business as usual. Many people on the street (or in these forums) believe that the the cost is high here, and these higher costs are passed on to the denizens of the wealthier neighborhoods. Virtually every Panamanian I ask believe both claims are true. [tag]Urban myth[/tag]?

Here’s what I know to be true. When I lived in the great white north my electric bills ran about $50 in the summer for 2 people living in a 2 bedroom apartment on [tag]Cape Cod[/tag]. Those electric bills increased to over $300 in the winter. My apartment was built in the 70’s when electric heat was cheap. Trouble is I lived there in the 90’s when it wasn’t. Lucky me. In the summer I used a fan, fridge, lights, TV, computer. When I averaged my bill for the year it was about $150. This was three years ago. The price has only gone up.

In Panama my electric bill runs about $35 a month for 2 people living in a 2 bedroom flat. I’m on the 4th floor and a cool water breeze rips through my flat forcing all the hot air out. So I use air conditioning only at night (or on the rare windless day). I also have a washer, lights, computer, and TV running. As you can see I’m already paying less for my electricity needs in Panama.

But consider this, my girlfriend’s family (4) lives in Chorrera. Not a wealthy neighborhood. They pay about $25 a month for lights, a couple of fans and TV. I understand why they might think that’s high. They pay $100 a month for rent. Only one of the family can find work. Work that only pays about $200 a month full time. $25 is big money to them. It’s the difference between a bucket of extra crispy KFC or a couple of mangos from the tree out back.

At first blush it appears I pay about $10 more each month for electricity than they do. I know what you’re thinking, “those lucky bitches!” But let’s be fair. Recall that I use an air conditioner and washer daily. (And I’m not even going to tell you how many times I turn on the blender or need to recharge my girlfriends vibrator). So if I’m paying more – I’m not paying much more. In the end, maybe its just a matter of perception. If you’re living in Chorrera $25 is a killer bill. In Punta Patilla its less than you would tip your manservant to dispose of a dead hooker.

For me the bottom line is this; my utility bills are much less in Panama than they were in the states. And if I do pay a bit more than someone living in a poorer neighborhood, I’ve got no problem with that. It’s the least I can do. Of course, if you’re still troubled by the “high” cost of electricity there’s an alternative. Emulate one of Panama’s more [tag]infamous politicians[/tag] and just steal what you need.

Former Mireyista legislator Francisco “Panchito” Reyes gained notoriety for pulling a gun on two electric utility workers who were disconnecting an illegal connection to the power grid through which he was stealing electricity. The erstwhile legislator’s colleagues in the assembly apparently thought it perfectly proper for one of their number to steal and to pull guns on people — as least the wouldn’t lift his immunity from prosecution for such behavior — but at the polls in May of 2004 the voters didn’t see it that way. The Panama News

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