After the announcement last July that the Ecuador would end its LP gas subsidy, the government has emphasized the advantages of electricity over gas. It will be more efficient, save lives and cause less harm to the environment, the government has said.
President Rafael Correa and Energy Minister Esteban Albornoz, among others, have touted the electric advantages and pointed out that eight hydroelectric plants currently under construction will make Ecuador a net exporter of electricity by 2018. “We will have all the electricity we need,” said Correa.
In the past two weeks, however, the government has reversed course, saying they only meant that households should change from gas to electric cooktops. The about-face followed criticism from energy experts that the country’s electric infrastructure cannot manage a major surge in electric usage until major upgrades are completed.
“We never intended for families to change to heating water and drying clothes with electricity,” says Albornoz. “Gas is still more effective for these things. We also do not want to encourage people to buy more electric appliances. This is not the intent of the changes we are making.”
Albornoz adds that he regrets any minunderstanding created by government announcements.
“The original purpose of the gas subsidy when it was created in 2003 was to provide energy for cooking, nothing more,” he says. “It was also intended to reduce the air pollution created by many people cooking with charcoal and wood, and it has been successful in doing this.”
Several members of Albornoz’s staff are making presentations around the country, making the case, with visual aids, that gas will still be more efficient for heating water and drying clothes than electricy. “It costs about 20% more to heat water with electricity than it does with gas,” Albornoz says. “It would be foolish to change from gas for this.”
Fernando Salinas, President of the Pichincha College of Electrical Engineers, is one who suggests the country could face power shortages if there is too much demand for electricity. “We need to move slowly in this project and the point needs to be clearly made that the changes we are making are small, limited to kitchen cooktops.” Salinas says that even if Ecuador produces enough energy to support a large increase in demand, the power system and wiring may not be ready to handle the load.
According the government, elimination of the gas subsidy will save $800 million a year.
Photo caption: Former Ecuador Minister of Engery Esteban Albornoz.