The Public Services Regulatory Authority (ARESEP) this week ordered the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) to refund customers some ₡5.6 billion ($11.2 million), a result of overcharging on electric bills earlier this year.
Last February and March, ICE was forced to generate electricity at a thermal plant using diesel instead of traditional bunker fuel, which costs less. ICE then passed those higher costs to consumers.
ARESEP ordered the ICE refunds after rejecting a Costa Rican Chamber of Industries request to lower rates due to “excessive charges by ICE.”
The chamber argued that ₡17.5 billion ($35 million) of ICE spending was unjustified, and therefore, a reduction in electricity rates should be applied during the last three months of the year.
The problem originated when a National Oil Refinery (RECOPE) provider’s shipment of bunker fuel failed to meet regulations. ICE refused the shipment and was forced to generate electricity using thermal plants to secure an uninterrupted supply and avoid blackouts.
ARESEP calculated additional spending on thermal generation at ₡5.6 billion and concluded that the expenditure was “due to causes beyond ICE’s control,” as the state-owned RECOPE is the only agency authorized to import fuel into the country.
The regulatory agency ordered ICE to provide customers refunds in monthly bills “as soon as possible,” and to submit monthly reports on the refunds.
During Costa Rica’s dry season from December to April, ICE hydroelectric plants do not generate sufficient electricity to meet the country’s demand, and ICE frequently must use thermal plants.