Photo via El Destape

Summer is upon us. That means longer days, pools, and using up some of that precious vacation time. But in Argentina it also means suffering through the seemingly inevitable power cuts that leave us all wondering if taking a swim in the Riachuelo would really be that bad of an idea.

For several years now the poor state of the energy grid and its consequent inability to meet demand — climate change allowing us  to cook an egg in the asphalt doesn’t help either probably — give power cuts the spotlight during the first months of every year. President Mauricio Macri has already warned 2017 won’t be an exception to this stifling trend.

When speaking to press after an energetic efficiency summit today, Macri said his administration has “done a lot of things that will lower the number of power cuts this summer, but we will have them again because this [fixing the grid] happens one day after the other, not from one day to the other.” He estimated it would take them “six or more years” to do finish the job.

Macri’s statements come a day after the government made it clear the energy bills would continue to increase next year. The Ministry of Energy announced yesterday that electricity bills will see a 36 percent increase for most homes as of February 2017. The so-called “social tariff” — a benefit which families from the most vulnerable sectors can access — will undergo the same proportional adjustments but will still stand.

According to government estimates, 4 million homes are included in the social tariff, receive 150 kilowatts of electricity every month without having to pay out of pocket. In order to access it, the applying household must have a gross income lower than two minimum wages — AR $15,120. Those benefited by welfare plans, veterans of the Malvinas war, domestic employees and people who collect unemployment can also access it.

According to the Ministry of Energy, an average home located in the Greater Buenos Aires area currently pays around AR $360 in electricity per month. As of February 2017, the price would increase to AR $490. Those who consume between 150 and 300 kilowatts will pay AR $110 more while those who are in the lower category will see a AR $30 increase. In contrast, the top 25 percent who consume the most electricity will pay AR $430 more every month.

The announcement was made by Energy Secretary Alejandro Sruoga during one of the several public hearings aimed at communicating the increase throughout the country.

At least we can safely say that the government learned from the mistakes it made when trying to apply the increases in gas bills earlier this year. Different to what happened then, the Macri administration was quick to hold public hearings to inform the people about them.

The Supreme Court ruling that forced it to suspend gas increases for homes precisely for not carrying out this process the constitution indicates and meant a big political defeat must still be fresh in memory. In Energy Minister Juan José Aranguren more than anyone’s.

Energy Minister Aranguren. Photo via Clarín
Energy Minister Aranguren. Photo via Clarín

The decision is part of a series of periodic increases that will take place throughout the Macri administration, in order to substantially reduce the massive energy subsidies instated mostly during the Kirchner administrations.

As mentioned, Macri estimated the state would need “six or more years of investment and work” to fix what he claims were “screw ups” from the former administrations.

“A lousy policy from the former administration left us without energy. We lost the ability to supply for ourselves and it generated a tremendous fiscal deficit. And since the prices were ridiculously low, we had a level of consumption that was unusually high, compared to other citizens from the region,” Macri said.

The President went on to assure that during the Kirchner administration there were also “scandalous levels of corruption” in the energy sector: “not only there was no investment, but there was theft as well.” In the meantime, ready that hand fan. It’s going be a long summer.