Its thundering heavy right now. Though this is only sometimes the source of power failures here in Dominican Republic. Its unpaid bills.
There’s more than enough potential power capacity in this country, but with pretty much no one paying their bills, including the government, the power companies can’t operate, and simply stop producing electricity for several hours a day. The situation is compounded by a series of privatizations and renationalization of various components of the electrical generation-distribution-billing system, leaving the responsibilities in disarray. Plus government legislated, but unfunded, universal right to electricity .. which seems great idea, if someone was paying.
People tap into the system on their own initiative. Throughout the country, dozens of wires hang in big drooping bundles, organically flourishing, with several loose ends dripping down to head level .. and who knows whether they carry live current, I haven’t checked. Once a month, the bill collector comes around, and if the bill is refused, the line is cut to the house. An hour later, the bill collector is heading back to headquarters and the locals are heading up to reconnect their wires for another month. And so on.
Few pay their bills. The mentality is .. why should it be paid?! — it can be gotten with just a little effort, and blackouts can be handled. And my neighbor isn’t paying, so why should I. Hurt your credit?! It’s like a prisoners dillemma national nightmare, and every once in a while the night light is on.
The power outage in our neighborhood here is pretty regular .. 4 hours every morning, 4am – 8am (it’s much worse in the outer barrios and rural areas which can be without power for 18 hours). Our place has a backup battery and a generator, most places that can afford it do .. but the aircon is on a circuit that’s only powered by the mains. So sleepily every morning I switch on the floor fan we acquired soon after discovering the blackout schedule — its just too hot for us weak foreigners to sleep without some air flow. Around 7:30 the battery goes out, and Abuelo (sweet Spanish old man here, the caretaker of the place) has to go and manually start the generator; as with just about everything, he doesn’t move too fast, so there’s a gap of five minutes. Usually this happens right during a shower, or while toasting toast.
We have UPSs and all here at INSTRAW, but they aren’t always so reliable. Same at home. So if you see me bouncing on and off IRC or IM, you have the story. However it looks like MINUSTAH has all the goods for a smooth running UN office over in Haiti.
The electricity woes follow us. Last week travelling back to Sweden, our connection in Newark was hit by lightning, causing a three hour delay. Coming back, staying in Philadelphia, power was lost after another big electrical storm, causing general household chaos (“Shower in the dark?! Where to get coffee?!”) .. but by this point I’m pretty comfortable without power .. for a while. Something we should all start thinking about.