March 17, 2009

Free light bulbs for all


Several months ago La Prensa reported that La ENEE (the government owned electric company) would be giving a free compact fluorescent light bulb to every user household to encourage energy savings. I specify 'user' household, of course, because many households in Honduras do not have access to electricity at any cost and many more could have access, but cannot afford the installation costs.

Many of the households that I've been in, especially the ones who truly could use a free light bulb, have already used fluorescent bulbs for years because they know that CFLs save on the cost of the electric bill.

It didn't make a lot of sense to me, given the economic situation of La ENEE − on the verge of bankruptcy daily − to be giving freebies to middle class or rich households. However, I read a report just the other day that indicated that a pretty good portion of subsidies actually benefit the middle class and rich more so than the poor.

La ENEE, the enemyGiven the amounts we have been cheated by La ENEE, I kind of looked forward to getting my free light bulb, but really did not expect to ever see it. I assumed that the light bulbs would either be stolen and sold or that La ENEE would run out of bulbs before they left the high voter-concentration areas of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.

Somewhere along the line, apparently the plan changed. I then heard that user households were not being given one light bulb, they were being offered to change out every light bulb in their house! (I wonder which country or aid program provided the light bulbs?) For many families that would mean a deserved two or three free light bulbs, but imagine how many light bulbs those in normal to large-sized houses would get!

Reader B sent this to me (in part; all the nice compliments have been removed. ;-) ):

Hola La Gringa-

Today, some young folks from ENEE came to our street and exchanged ALL our bulbs for the energy efficient type, at no cost. (as far as I can understand as I don't speak Español yet).

They keep the boxes and put your old incandescent bulbs in them − they exchange bulb for bulb working or not, so if your readers are planning replacements ENEE may soon accommodate them.

Incidentally for the technically minded they supplied two brands ...I got 18 of the Philips "Twister" 20 watt units and two "dion guang" 14 watts vertical tube units.

This was news to me but maybe your readers are expecting it.

Wow! Isn't he lucky? And then he sent this email the next day:

Buenos días La Gringa-

After our first night with the new bulbs, I can give them a deserved thumbs-up. They give an equivalent light that seems, at first a bit stark, but much whiter and brighter. Makes even our old and dingy bathrooms a little more bearable.

They will likely not work with dimmers or tri-lite lamps as florescents need different electronics than incandescents. Best not to exchange all your spare bulbs, as they will still have useful applications.

We had the same experience as you with our last ENEE bill - too good to be true.

Please feel free to share, your other readers are a great resource for those of us lost in the wilderness...

I told El Jefe about this and he told me a funny story. Apparently to prevent theft or corruption, La ENEE will only exchange bulb for bulb. (Or maybe the government offices will use the incandescents since they don't pay their electric bills anyway and so don't have to be efficient.)

His aunt already had all CFL bulbs in her house, but of course wanted some free light bulbs. They said 'no can do', but suggested that she could go to the corner pulperia to buy some cheap bulbs and they would exchange them out for the more expensive CFLs. They waited. She did. And they did.

A few days after Bruce's email, a neighbor from the front of the colonia excitedly called to let us know to get our old light bulbs ready because La ENEE was here in our colonia!

Sadly, apparently the light bulbs ran out that day, or their allotted time in our colonia ran out, because they never made it to La Gringa's house. No government handouts for me but that is okay.

There is still hope for you readers in Honduras.
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