x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Electricity costs surge, making residents nervous

Government promises to allay fears of summertime blackouts and interruptions to water supplies.

People in Sharjah use car batteries to power outdoor lighting after an electricity failure in the area in August, 2009.
People in Sharjah use car batteries to power outdoor lighting after an electricity failure in the area in August, 2009.

Residents of the northern emirates are growing worried as their electricity bills for March and April have begun to rise and the spectre of summertime utility outages looms again.

Bassam Ali, 50, who lives in the Al Qassimiya area of Sharjah, was surprised when he received a Dh1,100 bill for March, his highest pre-summer bill in the past 10 years. He said he paid Dh530 in February. Last March, his bill was about Dh600.

"If we are already paying more than Dh1,000 in March and April, how much are going to pay in June and July?" he said.

Some residents said they were considering moving out of the emirate because of the high utility costs.

Ismael al Mansouri said he paid Dh1,200 in April for utilities at his two-bedroom apartment, up from Dh850 in March. He said he paid about Dh700 in April last year.

"I am already making comparisons with the tariffs in Ajman and Dubai and am considering moving on," the 60-year-old said. "It could be cheaper now staying in Dubai, with good services, than staying in Sharjah."

Last summer, residents reported midsummer utility bills of Dh1,200 to Dh1,500 for a one-bedroom flat. Similar homes in Ajman incurred utility costs of about Dh600 around the same time, they said.

The Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (Sewa) has said the bills are correct and that tariffs have not increased. The only difference is that residents are using more power and other utilities as temperatures rise, Abdrahman al Salman, head of Sewa's public relations department, said.

"The bills are also not just for electricity, but water and gas as well; any increase in the usage of these other two would also reflect on the bills," he said.

The average temperature for both months, however, was 32 degrees Celsius.

Sewa last increased power tariffs in 2009, raising them by almost 50 per cent in response to power production costs. The new charges are 40 fils per kilowatt hour (kWh) for industrial users, while commercial and residential sectors pay 30 fils per kWh.

Umm al Qaiwain electricity bills also increased for many customers in April, compared with what they paid in March.

Yousef al Hammadi said he paid Dh760 in April, almost double the Dh400 he paid in March.

"I was also shocked to learn that they were not accepting half payments," he said. "For so long we have paid what we have, and the balance got carried to the next month."

The Government has promised help for the region: Sharjah, which has suffered blackouts and power cuts every summer, will receive an additional 700 megawatts from the capital's grid, and a new distribution plant will be set up in the emirate at a cost of Dh500 million.

The emirate will also receive an additional 10 million gallons of water a day, and residents said the investment would bring relief in the long term.

But for now, many are worried simply about the next few months.

UAQ residents complained of water supply interruptions in residential areas of Shabiyyat-Riqah, Al Abiyadh and Matu'am.

Several families said they had gone days without water in the past two months.

Khalifan Mohammed, a resident of Matu'am, said the interruptions began in early March.

"Recently, I spent a week without being supplied with water at my home due to the ongoing disruptions in the piped water networks," he said. "I had to rely on water distribution tankers, which get expensive with shortages."

He said he had spent up to Dh650 on water in April alone.

Authorities attributed the water disruptions to the continuing periodical maintenance of pipes and other equipment in the water-supply system in some parts of the emirate.

"This is to improve our services and maintain the good quality of water supplied to the people," Dr Misbah Rashid Hamid, the director general of UAQ Municipality, said.

He also warned water distribution companies to stop arbitrary increases in water prices, saying firms caught charging more than the approved amount would be fined.

ykakande@thenational.ae