Power Generation on the island
"And God said, 'Let there be light' and there was light, but the Electricity Board said He would have to wait until Thursday to be connected." - Spike Milligan
RECO and RECO on Facebook
The much-maligned RECO
You can't talk about utilities in Roatan without using the "R " word. RECO is the generator and distributor of electricity for Roatan and will be for the next few decades. It has a monopoly from the federal government that cannot be reversed no matter what local politicians campaign on! You, of course, can generate your own electricity and many resorts and some off-grid housing do indeed have their own from gas/propane/diesel generators, solar panels, or wind turbines.
Most of the people who complain about RECO do so from sticker shock. If you are a Hondurean who has moved from the mainland then suddenly your price per kilowatt hour (kWh) has more than doubled. They are outraged. The outrage is misplaced. Hydropower generates 42% of the power on the mainland and so the cost of production is far less. Also, the infrastructure is old and failing there and ENEE does not charge enough to keep it maintained. In other words, the government keeps the prices artificially low as the majority of the population could not afford the true cost of the power. This is a vicious circle and eventually, there will be serious problems with the power grid on the mainland. Outages there are already familiar events.
Power is expensive here but the costs are in line with other islands in the Caribbean. I have compiled a list of "fully loaded" power costs for various usages. 100 kWh and 400 kWh would be considered residential whereas 800 kWh would be considered commercial. On the non-RECO ones in the diagram, I cannot be sure there are no extra taxes charged on top of these figures as they are self-reported. The RECO one includes taxes, municipal fees, and the 10% discount given when they built the more efficient plant. Honduras also gives a discount to people who qualify under "tercera edad" (old age) but that is capped at 1,000 HNL. To compare pricing I have used a report from "An Association of Electrical Energy Solution Providers Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation." or CARILEC for short. The report is from September 2021 and I calculated and added RECO's charges at the top. I have rounded all figures up to the nearest dollar. Note the biggest exception on the sheet is Trinidad & Tobago which shows what a difference there is when you own the source of the hydrocarbons you use to generate the power. Again this is why power is so cheap on the mainland as 42% is produced by Hydropower.
An Association of Electrical Energy Solution Providers
Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation
Tariff Report September 2021
I take responsibility for all errors.
Why are the costs so high?
Roatan has to import all its fuel. So not only does it have to purchase diesel or LPG to power the plant it must transport and store that fuel in sufficient quantities to keep the generators running. It has to be able to store enough in hurricane and earthquake-proof containers such that if the weather or other circumstances prevent deliveries it has a healthy stockpile. If you compare the cost of other Caribbean islands as I have done below you see Roatan is high but not a great deal above the Caribbean average. The above chart shows an example of 3 different usages which would trigger different rates.
If you are interested in the exact amount that you are charged per kWh it is based on your usage in this particular billing cycle. As of July 2022, these were the published rates. The less you use the cheaper the rate.
Latest published rates as of September 2022
Why we are lucky to have RECO!
So why do I think we are lucky to have RECO? Well first let me tell you what it was like 17 years ago when we arrived. RECO was a collective that had been put together by some of the richer people on the island and all customers were in essence shareholders. However, it did not earn enough money to pay for fuel or the maintenance of the generators. If a generator broke you could be waiting weeks for it to be fixed or sometimes there was just not enough fuel to run them. Theft from the power lines was rampant. Power would often be out all day for weeks. Generators were essential. You could not do business or have lights in your home without one. The major resorts all had to have their own generators because they could not rely on power. Everyone had to have gas to cook and you could forget trying to keep things refrigerated it was a living hell.
To have any kind of service in your community regardless of whether it is a police department, fire station, hospital, or power generation you need to have the population and tax income to support it. Roatan does not generate a huge income you can see that from the underfunded public hospitals, schools, and police force. Roatan does not have the money to support the huge capital investment that has been put in RECO. If we had a power plant that reflected the population and then it wouldn't be a 50th the size of RECO.
A few years ago I was doing some radio shows on the island for fun. One was an hour interview with RECO and so I know about 7 years ago the island was using something like 10 MW regularly and at peak times like Semana Santa 14MW. RECO built a 45 million dollar (my guestimate) 24 MW plant that at the time of building was the most advanced of its type in the world. It can switch between one of three different fuel supplies in a matter of hours so they can always use the lowest price fuel. At the moment that happens to LPG. It has three 8MW generators that could be online so its capacity far surpasses the needs of the island.
They have also spent 7 million building a 3MW wind farm. Though it is a small percentage of our needs it contributes and was not cheap. I guess another 7 million in investment. Recently they have built two solar farms 7MW and a 5MW solar plant and a large battery backup capacity (10MW/26 MWh energy storage solution) that can power the island for an hour on its own. This allows them to control the phase and flow of the electricity causing fewer "brown" outs and fewer outages altogether. Recently they put a 7 million submarine cable to St Helene and beyond to power about 700 houses. The battery also means they do not waste power when running the generators any extra power generated can be used to charge the batteries which can then be put back in the system a little later.
We have times when they tell us we will not have power for several hours that is because they are converting all the old wooden power poles that only last 7 years to concrete ones that should last 30 years well if taxis can stop crashing into them. They also need to move the power lines with the construction and widening of the roads and to do any significant changes to the network.
This is a huge amount of money to be invested in Roatan. An investment in purely economic terms that is not reflective of the current or near-term client base. I would estimate somewhere between $70 -100 million for an island that has only a few large hotels and no large commercial business to speak of. You can argue over the reasons why RECO has made the investment that is not relevant to this discussion but it has and we are lucky to have it. Some people argue that is why the electricity costs are so high. No, they are high because we are an island. By law in Honduras being a utility and a monopoly RECO is not allowed to make more than a certain percentage profit on its revenue which I think is capped at 10% and believe me they have survived multiple outside audits as politicians try to get popular by pulling them down.
Why do some outages last seconds while others last hours
One of the reasons we can have sudden and unexpected outages is that unlike most power systems the power basically travels in a line from one end of the island to another. If more power lines were installed so it could become a circle they would be able to isolate sections far quicker and efficiently. Providing better service to all the customers. However, that would be a massive undertaking and would involve upsetting a lot of people as new power poles would have to be placed over their land. So we have to live with some inconvenience.
If a taxi takes out a power pole or a tree falls over from erosion onto the lines then all the people past that point will lose power for as long as it takes to safely remove the problem and then fix and then energize the land. A serious undertaking especially in a storm. You may have noticed the power going out for a few seconds to a minute at a time. That is because of the inclusion of "circuit breakers" a certain points along the line. In the past, a branch hitting a power line would take the whole line up to the power station out. However now the electrical short trips the breaker. After a short period, the breaker automatically energizes the line again and if the problem is gone the power returns. If not, out it goes again. These breakers save us from much longer outages.
Irrespective of the owner's reasons for this outlandish investment in infrastructure here it allows for the possibility of far greater growth for the island. This infrastructure allows us to attract investment that would just not be a possibility without it.
RECO has done a terrible job over the years of public relations and customer service. I have some personal horror stories that I enjoy regaling as examples of the worst customer service practices I have seen anywhere in the world. Some of its procedures make you want to bang your head against the wall but it is improving even if it is just because there is less and less to complain about as the infrastructure improves steadily. As you can see I am a supporter of RECO though ironically they don't think so. I even created their Facebook page for them and connected it to the linemen to help facilitate problems being reported early on in their growth. Still, I would rather have the technology we have on the island and bad customer service than have great customer service and the system our island actually could pay for with taxes.
I will give a quick explanation of a RECO bill. First of course there are no addresses on Roatan so your address can be as strange as the "Blue house close to West Bay zip line". These bills sometimes get lost. You should by now do everything online it is the only way to be sure everything goes smoothly. When you buy a property it is important to make sure it is transferred properly into your name. REMAX will facilitate this as a service but it takes time; sometimes several months.
I have identified the most likely items you will see on your bill. Historical consumption is important as you can see if you have something going wrong. That could be anything from leakage of water or a running toilet so your water pumps are constantly switching on to maintain the pressure, Sometimes they read the meter wrong, or maybe you are leaving the AC/fans on too much.
Below are some of the standard codes you will see on your bill. The worst part is the fuel adjustment as you can imagine especially over the year. Rates are fixed and can only be changed by government decree but the price of fuel varies and therefore so does the cost of your electricity. You might see the cost of LPG fall in the news but RECO may be locked into prices they bought 4 months ago. So if you notice your bill seems to be increasing though you using the same amount of electricity this is usually the culprit. The government subsidy was negotiated when RECO wanted to build the more efficient plant it has today. The government made them reduce prices by 10% to allow them to build it.
How much electricity does the island use and where does it come from?
In a typical month, we will use about 10,000 Megawatt hours of power this is produced from various sources but roughly.
78% from the LPG plant
3% from Diesel
0.5 % from trade winds
8% from solar
2-3% from the batteries discharging.
(don't think about that too hard)
10 years ago we were 100% Diesel generated. Quite a change.
If you have further questions feel free to email me or peruse RECO's website or Facebook page
The use of propane is common on the island and that is no surprise, especially for those of us that have lived here a long time. Propane is cheaper to run than an equivalent electrical appliance. Cookers, water heaters, and dryers can all be run on propane as can generators. In past years when electricity was extremely unreliable nearly every house would have a propane-powered stove. If you not you could wait a long time between hot meals. I still suggest propane cookers and dryers when people build as the independence from RECO is comforting and a good-sized gas tank can last for months. If you have several appliances then you can get a fixed tank outside the house and know that you have no concerns about running out in the middle of Christmas dinner! It has happened to me sadly.
Most people have the smaller 25 lb tanks though some have the larger and heavier 100lb tanks. Whatever size thank you get they are easy to fill. You can either take the small ones to a filling station. There is one in Sandy Bay and another in Coxen and of course Oakridge. However, there is also a delivery service for the little ones where a motorbike rider will take it away and have it filled for you, or in the urban areas, a truck will drive through playing a very irritating song to let you know they are out on the street and they can fill any size tank for you.
Bip Gas Contáctanos *LPG (*574) type "*574 on your phone
BIP has four locations open 7 am to 5 pm Monday to Saturday
Coxen Hole French Harbor Sandy Bay and Oakridge,
I believe they even have apps so you can order them but I need to research this further
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