Walvis residents protest against ‘unfairness’ as E-Red cuts farmers’ tariffs

By Jade McClune

FARMERS in the Erongo  region are set to have a slight reprieve from the punishingly high electricity bills that households have been subjected to in recent years, as the regional electricity distributor last week announced that it would reduce network rates for farmers by 10 percent. Walvis Bay residents were meanwhile set to march in protest against the household tariffs yesterday.

The announcement by Erongo Red last week that it will implement a price increase of only 0.1% this year, as well as support farmers through a 10 percent reduction in network rates, in addition to existing subsidies for the elderly is likely to bring some relief to the hardest hit, particularly in rural areas, but local activists are pushing for a price reduction.

Acting CEO of Erongo Red Nico Niemand last week said “We are all well aware of the severe drought in the country and most of the farmers in the region are also affected by this situation. In support of the farmers, the ECB (Electricity Control Board) had granted Erongo Red the right to reduce the network service fees of the farmers by 10 percent.”

“Customers will only incur a minuscule increase on statutory tariffs in the form of the ECB levy and National Energy Fund levy, but this will only mean a two cent change in electricity prices. With regard to farmers, depending on whether they have a first, second or special supply in fixed charges, they will experience a reduction from one to six percent on their overall Erongo RED invoice for the next year.”

Gabriel Kornelius of the Swakopmund Concerned Group said they want the electricity distributor to go further and bring its prices down to the national average, given that Erongo Red has the highest tariffs of any power distributor in Namibia (N$2.38 per kw/unit compared to N$2.01 at Lüderitz).

Kornelius said they would continue to mobilise local residents to bring down the prices, as many residents feel hard done by the high prices, which they say has impoverished many households that have been paying significantly more than their counterparts in other parts of the country.

They also want E-Red to re-instate the subsidy for households on 30 Amp power supply, which the company removed this year, thereby compelling many struggling households to downgrade to 20 Amp supply, which they say reduces their standard of living and regularly damages their appliances.

E-Red spokesman Benjamin Nangombe said last week that the 2.5 percent reduction in the price of Nampower’s bulk power tariffs would not be passed on to consumers, but would be used to cushion the company against inflation instead.

He said 70 percent of E-Red’s revenue is paid over to Nampower for bulk power purchases and that the high tariffs were determined by various factors, including the size of the area serviced, the need for extensive upgrades and environmental conditions at the coast.

E-Red has set up an online calculator (load simulator) that can be used to calculate how many devices can safely be used with 20 or 30Amp household power supply, but it is not clear how widely accessible the online tool is to indigent communities that do not have regular access to the internet.

A spokesman for the Walvis Bay Concerned Group said there would be a mass protest demonstration at Kuisebmond over the issue of tariffs at the harbour town on Wednesday morning and that they would march into two columns to submit petitions to E-Red and the mayor’s office.

Kornelius said following recent meetings with the minister, they would continue to engage the Ministry of Mines and Energy after the Swakopmund Concerned Group submitted a request for a reduction in tariffs in line with the national average, but they were still waiting for a response from the authorities.

The public protest this week comes on the back of an announcement by Erongo Red last year that it reached a key milestone when it generated over N$1.1 billion in revenue.