英文

Editorial : Cruel Power Tariff Hikes and Poor Gatekeeping

【明報專訊】The two power suppliers in Hong Kong have announced raising electricity charges next January. Despite the authorities' attempt to "play down" the tariff increase by toying with numbers, after a brief calculation, one can find out that CLP Power will raise tariffs by about 19.8% and HK Electric will even raise tariffs by 45.6% compared to the net electricity rate at the beginning of this year. The government has stated that the two power companies have agreed to draw on the Tariff Stabilisation Fund (TSF) "substantially" and shoulder the negative balance of the Fuel Clause Recovery Account (FCA), as if to say the companies have already "taken care" of citizens very well. The reality is that the government did a poor job of gatekeeping. Amidst the adversity of a recession faced by Hong Kong, the two power companies are still insisting on getting the most out of the permitted rate of return of 8% and passing on the rising fuel cost pressure to citizens. The so-called relief measures are merely about returning part of the profits "reaped excessively" from the people in the past to the public. The Scheme of Control Agreements (SCAs) has allowed the two power companies to take complete advantage of citizens. The government must seize the chance of the SCAs' interim review next year to revise the arrangements for things like fuel charges so that the two power companies can no longer be allowed to demand whatever they want.

Electricity bills in Hong Kong consist of the "basic tariff" and the "fuel cost adjustment". The former mainly reflects the power company's operating expenses, fixed investments and so on. The latter reflects the fluctuations in international fuel prices, and customers have to reimburse the actual costs to the power company. Adding the two together equals the net electricity tariff. Over the past year, international fuel prices have remained high due to war and geopolitical factors. The two power companies have long forecasted that electricity tariffs will inevitably go up next year. Yesterday (22 November), the specific plans of the tariff hike were officially unveiled.

According to the government, starting next January, CLP Power and HK Electric will raise electricity prices by about 6.4% and 5.5% respectively, if compared to the rate this month. However, these figures are actually misleading. Previously, when the two power companies announced their tariff adjustment plans at the end of each year, the difference was always calculated on an annual basis. The sudden shift to using a monthly basis as the unit of comparison is extremely unusual, giving people the impression that the companies are playing with numbers to mask the actual increase rate. In fact, if compared with the net electricity tariffs in January this year, CLP Power's actual tariff hike is 19.8%, while that of HK Electric is even as high as 45.6%.

The SCAs between the government and the two power companies allow them to pass on all the fluctuations in fuel costs to the people. During the course of this year, the two power companies have repeatedly raised the fuel cost adjustment, pushing up the overall electricity price. Although it was never formally announced by the authorities, CLP Power's net electricity tariff has actually already risen by more than 10%, while the increase has been even bigger for HK Electric. According to the current SCAs, regardless of how good or bad Hong Kong's economy is, both power companies can earn a full 8% return every year. Such a business arrangement that guarantees profit is rare in the world.

The Secretary for Environment and Ecology said yesterday that during a discussion between the government and the two power companies about the tariff increases, the government asked the companies to consider not earning the full permitted rate of return of 8%, but the two rejected the request based on the grounds that "the spirit of the agreement must be respected". The current SCA was signed in 2018 and will undergo an interim review next year. The government should grasp this opportunity to amend the mechanism. If the two power companies are unwilling to cooperate, the domestic electricity market should be opened up as soon as possible to break the monopoly of the two power companies and introduce competition.

明報社評2022.11.23:兩電暴力加價 政府把關乏力

兩電明年1月加電費,當局堆砌數字「淡化」加幅,然而稍作計算即可發現,若與今年初淨電價比較,中電加幅約19.8%,港燈加幅更達45.6%。政府表示兩電同意「大幅度」動用電費穩定基金,又承擔燃料帳負結餘,彷彿已經非常「照顧」市民,現實是政府把關乏力,兩電在香港陷入衰退的逆境下,堅持必須把8%准許利潤「賺到盡」,將燃料成本上漲壓力轉嫁市民,所謂紓困措施,不過是將之前從市民身上「賺突」的錢,撥出一部分歸還公眾。利潤管制協議令兩電佔盡市民便宜,政府必須趁明年中期檢討的機會,修訂燃料費等安排,不能讓兩電予取予攜。

本港電費由「基本電費」及「燃料調整費」組成,前者主要反映電力公司的營運開支、固定投資等,後者反映國際燃料價格變動,以實報實銷方式,由用戶向電力公司支付,兩者合計就是淨電價。過去一年,受戰爭及地緣政治因素影響,國際燃料價格高企,兩電早已預告明年無可避免要加電費,具體加價方案,昨天正式曝光。

根據政府說法,與本月電費相比,明年1月起,中電加價約6.4%,港燈加價約5.5%。然而這其實是有誤導成分的數字。兩電每逢年底公布電費調整方案,變化幅度從來都是以按年方式去計算,突然以月份作為比較單位,做法極不尋常,予人觀感是搬弄數字,掩飾實際加幅。事實上,若與今年1月時的淨電費相比,中電實際加價幅度為19.8%,港燈加幅更高達45.6%。

政府與兩電的利潤管制協議,容許兩電將燃料成本波動悉數轉嫁市民。兩電今年一再提高燃料調整費,推高整體電價,儘管當局從無正式公布,其實中電淨電價已上升超過一成,港燈淨電價升幅就更大。根據現行利潤管制協議,不管香港經濟好壞,兩電每年都可賺盡8%回報,如此穩賺不賠的生意安排,世上罕見。

環境及生態局長昨天表示,政府與兩電磋商加價過程中,有要求兩電考慮不要賺盡8%准許回報,但兩電以「必須尊重合約精神」為由拒絕。現行利潤管制協議2018年簽訂,明年將作中期檢討,政府應趁這一機會修改機制;如果兩電不願配合,就應該盡快開放本地電力市場,打破兩電壟斷,引入競爭。

■Glossary

生字

play down : to try to make sth seem less important than it really is

reimburse : to pay back money to sb which they have spent or lost

misleading : giving the wrong idea or impression and making you believe sth that is not true

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