Vietnam to let public have a say on new electricity rates

By Manh Quan - Nguyen Nga, Thanh Nien News

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A Vietnamese woman checks electricity bill. Photo: Bach Duong A Vietnamese woman checks electricity bill. Photo: Bach Duong

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As state-owned Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) continues to be accused of abusing its market position, the government says it will seek public opinion before making any decision on new electricity prices. 
Dinh The Phuc, deputy chief of the Electricity Regulatory Authority under the Ministry of Industry and Trade, said on Friday it will organize conferences to collect the opinion of experts, businesses and people around the country this month.
After that his agency will submit the new pricing plan to the ministry and then the Prime Minister for approval, Phuc said.
The authorities made the move after local media reported that thousands of families saw two or even three-fold increases in their electricity bills in May and June, which many blamed on EVN's "unreasonable" billing method for household consumption.
Currently, Vietnamese household consumers are billed progressively at six different tiers. For the first 50 kilowatt hours (kWhs), people are charged VND1,230 per kWh, and then the rate goes up until it almost doubles at the 401st kWh.
In March, EVN raised power retail prices by 7.5 percent to an average of VND1,622 a kWh. It then also reduced seven billing tiers to six.
Possible hike
Speaking to Thanh Nien, Phuc also said his agency ordered EVN and other power producers to submit detailed reports on their currency-exchange losses supposedly caused by the weakening of the dong against the US dollar.
He said his agency needs to review the reports before discussing with the Ministry of Finance about their proposals for adjusting power prices to offset the losses.
Power producers that borrowed heavily in US dollars said their debt load increased significantly due to recent changes in foreign exchange rates.
National mining group Vinacomin, which contributed 6 percent to the total electricity output, said its electricity production business has lost around VND1.2 trillion (US$56.66 million).
China's unexpected yuan devaluation last month forced the State Bank of Vietnam to depreciate the dong for the third time this year. The dong has fallen around 5 percent against the US dollar.
In a comment on the state-owned companies' proposal, economist Nguyen Tri Hieu warned that with businesses ramping up their production for the last quarter, an increase in power prices will have significant impacts on the manufacturing sector.
It is also "unfair" that consumers have to pay for the businesses' losses which could have been prevented by early planning, he said.
Many other economists like Ngo Tri Long advised the electricity authority to carefully review the businesses' financial reports, and that it needs to work with different agencies before making any decision.

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