Electricity subsidy, yes or no?

Thursday, April 15, 2010
Issue 987, Page 4
Word count: 634
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

“No need to save electricity, the government has the subsidy anyway,” the real estate agent said. Then she went to turn on the power again.

This is exactly what I was told seconds after I turned off an EMPTY refrigerator in an apartment which is waiting to be leased out.

She asked me why I switched it off, I said “to save energy” but she replied it was not necessary.

I should not have let her spot me do that, or I should have argued with her about what’s the point of leaving an empty refrigerator on in an empty house.

I really don’t understand. Actually the reason is quite obvious, as she has already said it out loud – the Macau government is giving a MOP150 electricity subsidy to each of the residential units per month.

I’m convinced that if such subsidy didn’t exist, she would never let any electrical appliances connect to electricity in that house, unless some potential tenants want to check them out.

I feel really bad about it. To be honest I’m still learning to lead a green life, there are still chances that I will consume unnecessary electricity or other scarce resources in my daily life. But in this particular case, I thought it was common sense that people would switch off things that they really don’t need. Let’s not talk about the money issue or energy saving – you truly don’t need to have it on, so why don’t just turn it off? The frustrating part is, this real estate agent, probably at her early 50s, was so insistent and actually didn’t mind spending her energy, although not much, to go to switch on the refrigerator which was already turned off by me! In Cantonese we describe this type of people for having done something that “hurts other people and also doesn’t benefit oneself”.

This makes me wonder whether the “perpetrator”, or the one who has to shoulder the biggest responsibility for having encouraged such kind of mindset among the people, is the government.

For people who live alone, like me, I think usually their electricity bills will not go over MOP150 a month. During the past year I almost never paid for the electricity, but probably only in the two hottest months that I had to pay more or less MOP20, after the deduction of the subsidy.

So has this subsidy been making people consume more electricity than they actually need? Let’s assume an individual who lives alone spends MOP70 in average on electricity each month. Since the subsidy cap is MOP150, this person is truly “free” to use more electricity worth up to MOP80. So he or she may get loose on his or her habit on consuming energy and eventually the amount of the bill increases. But will this person care if at the end of the day still no money needs to come out from his or her pocket to settle the bill?

This subsidy, I think, somehow promotes irresponsible consumption of energy in Macau.

Ironically, on the other side of the territory in Cotai the 2010 Macao International Environmental Cooperation Exhibition and Forum had just been held.

The Macau Chief Executive and other officials spoke about how importance environmental conservation is and how committed Macau is to develop a low-carbon economy. If our decision-making officials could have thought more, how could they overlook the side effects of launching this electricity subsidy? And now they’ve even decided to continue this “livelihood measure” for one more year in 2010.

Wouldn’t it be nicer, or perhaps even wiser, if the government could use the same amount of money but change the subsidy approach – to deduct MOP150 from an electricity bill when the household successfully consumes less energy than it usually does in a month?

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