Beachgoers enjoy their final hours at Store Bay, Tobago, on August 16, the last day of activity allowed before beaches and rivers were closed nationally for a second time due to a recent pike in COVID-19 cases.

Faced with a drastic slowdown in business and still having maintenance costs for their plants, equipment and skeleton staff, many tourism sector stakeholders are now expressing concerns that electricity bills remain the same despite reduced usage of the utility.

Guesthouse owners, who prefer anonymity, told Guardian Media they were surprised their recent electricity bills remained the same although they have had no guests since March 2020.

“We took off the water pumps, light switches and all the refrigerators in the rooms but the bills kept being the same,” two of the operators said.

They said they are now fearful their electricity will be disconnected as they have not paid their bills since March.

The owners said they had reached out to the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) but were told to try to pay their bills.

Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association vice-president Carol Ann Birchwood-James said she understood the hoteliers’ situations but noted that the billing system has not changed over the years.

“Some people may not have read the terms of their bill but are only now reviewing it because times are tough. We had some guests for July and August, but as soon as the COVID numbers spiked, our switchboards lit up and people began to cancel their reservations. That occurred even before the Prime Minister (Dr Keith Rowley) announced the partial lockdown again,” she told Guardian Media.

She added, “Last year things were tough, but we could have relied on domestic tourism. We understand the situation perfectly and agree with the Government’s measures. However, the reality is that business people in this sector are hard hit so whereas they might not have been looking at their bills before, now every cent counts.”

She reminded too that Government’s $50 million grant to help rebuild Tobago’s tourism industry is for refurbishing the physical structure of the plants.

“It’s clear that it is not for operating costs. It is only for refurbishment. Stakeholders still have to find money to offset their operating costs,” she said.

T&TEC responds

Guardian Media spoke to officials at T&TEC about the tourism stakeholders’ concerns.

In an emailed response, T&TEC acting corporate communications manager Clare Cooper-Vincent said the commission’s policy regarding usage is on its website.

“Hotels can either be billed as commercial or industrial customers. If commercial, they are billed based on consumption (number of units used),” she said.

“However, if they are industrial, there is an added component of reserved capacity. Based on their reserve capacity, they will be charged for what they demand. However, if their demand is 75 per cent or less of their reserve capacity, they would be charged for 75 per cent of the reserve capacity, as per tariff.”

She said individuals with queries should visit the Tobago Distribution Office to discuss their concerns with the utilisation engineer or commercial officer.

However, she said the commission is not currently disconnecting customers for non-payment of bills. But she advised customers to make regular payments to their accounts to avoid interest charges and prevent their debt from rising.