Thursday, April 18, 2024

‘Let there be Light’ in San Mateo

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“Thank God for the light!” That was the main sentiment echoed by many of the San Mateo residents in San Pedro Town, as they will now benefit from the expansion of electricity into their community. The San Mateo Electrification project, executed by Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), is estimated to cost $383,000. It is a partial – but monumental – relief for the over 575 residents who have been without proper electricity for over 16 years.San Mateo Electrification Project-1
Power was interrupted by BEL on sections of Ambergris Caye on Tuesday morning December 16th to finally connect the San Mateo community to the national grid. “We are happy that finally we are able to get connected to electricity. Some of us are living here since this community started, and we have been behind and behind the different authorities for electricity to be brought here. It was about time and we are truly happy,” said a mother of two as she sat along with a group of neighbors to observe the newly installed electricity poles and power lines. She echoed the sentiments of many residents who have been waiting for such a project to materialize.
A total of 120 households will be able to benefit from the expansion of electricity. “The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) granted approval to BEL as part of the 2014 Annual Review Proceeding (ARP), for the Company to invest up to $5 million in rural electrification. San Mateo is one of the benefitting communities,” said Vonetta Burrell, Senior Communications Officer at BEL.
San Mateo community was created in 1997 under the leadership of Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr., who was then the Mayor of San Pedro and distributed the land to first time landowners during the electioneering process. Deplete of any infrastructure, the unplanned subdivision quickly grew, with small plywood buildings sprouting over completely submerged swampy mangrove areas, making it almost impossible to access. As the area grew over time, residents built long stretches of foot bridges over the swamp with old wooden planks to hop from one property to the other. It was after over 14 years of complaining that roads were introduced, first by the students from the University of Mississippi in the United States, then followed by the municipality.San Mateo Electrification Project-2
The construction of roads was a major requirement by the utility companies for basic services to be taken into the community. The issues affecting San Mateo had gone unaddressed by four elected central government administrations (1998 to 2003, 2003 to 2008 under PUP; 2008 to 2012 and 2012 to present under UDP), with little excuse for not making headway with the needed infrastructure. But after a sustained presence in the local media, the need for electricity was finally addressed with the residents in the area, and now they have access to electricity. “It was a lengthy process that we promised to address during our term in office. At every opportunity we had, we lobbied for this to be done. We have been behind Central Government and in much communication with BEL and we too are happy for this project,” said Deputy Mayor of San Pedro Gabriel “Gabby” Nuñez.
According to Burrell, the project was completed in a span of five and at a cost of $383,000. The San Mateo Electrification Project was funded by BEL with support from the Government of Belize and the San Pedro Town Council. The scope of the project included the installation of lamp posts and the running of high tension and secondary wires along all existing roads in the area.
In order for residents to be connected, they will be required to have their houses wired by a licensed electrician and each household must install a service entrance which includes meter and switch box, said Burrell as is required by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). “Residents who have already installed a service entrance, which is necessary for safe and proper connection to power supply from BEL, now need to acquire a PUC Electrical Installation Form, signed by a certified electrician. The service entrance must be ready for inspection by BEL. In addition, residents will now have to apply, as normal, to get connected at the standard connection rate of approximately $200,” explained Burrell. Such connection is estimated to cost between $1,200 and $1,500 and is the responsibility of each customer.San Mateo Electrification Project-3
Currently, BEL has been promoting a program called “Connecting homes, improving lives” which seeks to connect underprivileged families free of charge to the national grid. The project is partly funded from unused sums of monies left over that were originally secured for rural electrification projects around various parts of the country. According to Burrell, residents in the San Mateo Area will be able to participate in such program. “Customers, who are expected to fall under the Social Rate category, are eligible for consideration in this program to receive a free service entrance which costs about $800 to $1,200. Basic criteria for consideration under ‘Connecting Homes Improving Lives’” Those criteria are 1. Candidate must be an employed adult or should have some source of income and be capable of paying their monthly electricity bill. 2. Candidate must be a Belizean and 3. Candidate should be able to prove ownership of property or permission to occupy property.
BEL is arranging with PUC to send representatives to San Pedro later this week to expedite the application process for installation. San Mateo residents are encouraged to visit the BEL San Pedro office. In the meantime, residents may call BEL toll free at 0-800-235-2273 if they require additional information or clarification. It is expected that with the installation of electricity into the area, residents will be able to connect directly to BEL, thus eliminating the existing dangerous web of electrical lines. This will also help address the major hazard in the area caused by illegal connections.

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