(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Officials, lawmakers and traders face a two-month deadline to hammer out a new electricity tariff as the government scrambles for alternative measures to cover the Kingdom's rising national energy bill.
According to Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Qutaiba Abu Qura, the government has formed a committee comprising energy officials, traders, industrialists and lawmakers to come up with a rise in electricity rates with a "limited" impact on consumers.
The move comes one week after the government froze the implementation of a new electricity tariff carrying an average 9 per cent rise amid resistance from traders, lawmakers and citizens.
According to Abu Qura, the Cabinet tasked the committee with developing a "fair" pricing formula, refusing to rule out the possibility of decision makers implementing the previously announced rise in electricity rates.
"Right now all options are on the table, but we are committed to working with all sides to come up with a just solution," Abu Qura said.
The move places an added pressure on energy officials, who claim they designed the controversial tariff to ensure only the largest consumers witness a rise in their monthly bills in a bid to narrow the National Electric Power Company's (NEPCO) growing deficit, expected to reach JD1.7 billion this year, over a five-year period.
The national energy bill, which is expected, due to ongoing cuts in Egyptian gas supplies, to surpass JD5 billion, places a burden on the Kingdom's near-record JD1.02 billion deficit.
"We are working with the Ministry of Finance to see what options are available, but there are no easy solutions."
Energy officials face few alternatives, according to the Electricity Regulatory Commission (ERC), which warns that short of raising electricity rates, decision makers will have to consider "drastic measures", including regularly scheduled regional blackouts.
"We simply can't keep operating at the current rates; if we don't raise prices, we will simply have to cut back on services," ERC Commissioner Ahmed Hiyasat told The Jordan Times.
Committee members indicated that the new panel may face obstacles in arriving at a compromise within the two-month grace period, with traders and industrialists refusing any raise in electricity rates.
"The government simply cannot raise the electricity rates for the commercial and industrial sectors without hurting consumers," said Jordan Chamber of Commerce President Nael Kabariti.
"This is our stance and we won't back down."
Lawmakers also pledged to remain firm in their rejection of any rise in electricity rates, insisting that securing of alternative energy sources would alleviate NEPCO's growing deficit without requiring higher electricity bills.
"We recognise that Jordan's energy situation is dire, but we believe we can find alternatives that don't come at the expense of everyday citizens," said Chairman of the Lower House Energy Committee Jamal Gammo.
Deputies point to the import of Qatari liquid gas and Iraqi natural gas among the alternatives to ease the Kingdom off Egyptian gas supplies, which have yet to resume since a March blast that marked the 13th act of sabotage on Jordan's main energy source in little over a year.
Energy officials caution that despite accelerated talks with Doha and Baghdad, it will take between two to five years before Jordan benefits from any new energy agreement due to construction requirements.
The controversy over electricity prices stretches back to January, when the government announced a new tariff that was to go into effect this month and officials claimed would leave the monthly bills of 89 per cent of traders and 92 per cent of citizens unaffected, a claim traders and lawmakers disputed.
Amidst rising protests and a parliamentary motion to withhold confidence from the Awn Khasawneh government, officials backed down from the decision last week, suspending the planned raise in electricity rates until May 1 for further study.