San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Double Gas Price, Jimmy; Time to Conserve – or Else!, Other Options in Energy

Editor’s Note: To provide a sense of how things have changed – or not – in Costa Rica over the years, The Tico Times will occasionally bring you a taste of its editorials from years gone by. This installment looks at one concern that hasn’t gone away in 30 years: energy.


Double Gas Price, Jimmy

Jan. 5, 1979

The government has announced a 40 percent hike in gas prices, and motorists are screaming. They will now pay the equivalent of $1.40 a gallon, about twice what gasoline costs in the U.S.

But they’ll pay it, and probably worry about how to increase gas mileage and reduce consumption. The national petroleum monopoly RECOPE will start making money again after a losing year, and any reduced consumption will be reflected in the reduced petroleum imports and an improved foreign currency balance.

We can’t help wondering what would happen if President Jimmy Carter should double the price of gas in the U.S. to $1.40 a gallon. Such a drastic step would really force the fuel conservation that everyone talks about and nobody does anything about.

The outcries would be deafening, not only from an enraged motoring public, but from the international petroleum cartels whose profits have swollen as Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) prices have soared.

But just suppose that such a step enabled the United States to once again become half-sufficient in fuel production, which then touched off a ruthless price-cutting among the OPEC powers, which in turn brought world petroleum prices back to reasonable levels.

What a happy thought. What a happy dream.


Time to Conserve – or Else!

March 9, 1979

When member nations of OPEC decided to go for broke six years ago and quadrupled world crude price in one blow, there was much ado in consumer areas of the world over the need to conserve energy.

As is generally the case when there is much ado, virtually nothing happened.

The populations of the consuming nations growled but paid and kept right on consuming. And they still wondered why they couldn’t control inflation.

And what happened to the highly industrialized nations (such as the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, etc.) was marked by even greater inflation and more disastrous impact in the developing nations (such as Costa Rica, and in fact all of Latin America except for Venezuela).

As the rest of the world trembled and economies tottered, the oil producers grew more insistently arrogant. The recent collapse of the pro-Western Iranian government, and the consequent shutdown of Iranian petroleum exports for two months, brought things to a head.

Instead of increasing production to take up the slack, the other petroleum nations slowed their exports to provoke another world oil crisis – and then gleefully raised their prices again only three months after announcing a general 14.5 percent increase for 1979.

The size of the problem was brought home to Costa Rica by national refinery boss Fernando Ortuño, who returned this week from a Caribbean shopping trip. He was looking for emergency supplies to get this country through its current power crisis.

Ortuño solved the nation’s immediate problem, but at a staggering price. He needed 600,000 barrels of diesel. He got 160,000 for immediate delivery at $0.96 a gallon. He was promised the rest for April delivery – at $1.20 a gallon. A few weeks ago, this same diesel cost $0.43 a gallon.

Government officials estimate that just with the present increases, import of needed petroleum products this year will cost Costa Rica $100 million more than they calculated three months ago – a sum equal to about one-tenth of the national budget.

With tumbling coffee and sugar prices, how long can the economies of developing nations such as Costa Rica stand this international gouge?

President Rodrigo Carazo has summoned national leaders to discuss the crisis. This meeting may produce the tightest gasoline rationing Latin America has ever known.

At this point, we’re all for it.

Such a step might even provide a valuable example for other notable wasters of energy – such as the United States.


Other Options in Energy

Dec. 14, 1979

As a small country without any known fossil fuel reserves, Costa Rica is undoubtedly pursuing a sound policy in concentrating on the development of hydropower.

This was stressed at the inauguration last Sunday of the first phase of the long-delayed Arenal power project in Guanacaste.

Roberto Lara, president of the Costa Rican Electrical Institute (ICE), said it is essential to develop power-generating systems, which do not require imports of increasingly costly petroleum.

Although hydroelectric plants are costly, once installed, they provide one of the cheapest energy sources by utilizing the natural force of falling water.

As there seems to be no end in sight to the arbitrary price hikes being imposed by the oil-producing countries, it seems logical to further pursue development energy provided by nature.

Costa Rica’s geographical position and climatic conditions indicate that more effort could be made to harness the power of the sun and the wind. The technology exists.

While the nation can be proud of its new Arenal hydroelectric complex, there are additional ways of escaping OPEC’s ruthless pricing policies. These include the sun and the wind and even burning garbage to generate electricity.


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