Get Wired: Electricity in the Azuero

Electricity Pylon

Electric Pylon
by Garry Knight, Flikr Creative Commons

One of the perks of elderhood here in Panama are the various descuentos (discounts).  One of these is twenty percent off your electricity bill.  Cool, hey?

Especially cool if you use air conditioning, which eats more kilowatt hours than even your refrigerator.  The catch is getting that discount.

If you build a house and are the first person to live there, it’s a hassle to set up your electricity account, but it’s nothing compared to the hoops you’ll have to jump if you are renting or buy the house from someone else.

In the States, it’s pretty easy.  You just pick up the phone and transfer your old account to your new address.  You might have to provide your social security number, or you might have to pay a deposit, but that’s pretty much the whole process.

It’s Different Here

Here, you will first need to go outside and find the meter.  Write down the number because you will need it often.  For one thing, if you call 911 for an ambulance or because your house is burning down, they will find you using it.  For another, the electric company won’t give you the time of day without it.  Now, go back inside and write una letra de responsibilidad (a letter of responsibility) that says something like this:

Dear Electric Company Official,

My name is Joe Schmo and I now live at Calle NameOfStreet, Numero xx, NameOfTown, NameOfProvince, Republica de Panama.  My phone number is 6x-xx-xx-xx.  My passport number is xxx-xxx-xxx, NameOfCountry.  I am xxx years old.   (Caught that, did you?)

I  wish to have the electricity account at this address in my name and accept responsibility for paying it.  I am over (55 if a woman and 65 if a man) and therefore entitled to the jubilado (retirement) discount.

I have attached the following items:  (1) una copia de mi pasaporto (a copy of my passport); (2) una letra de autorización (a letter of authorization from the person previously responsible for paying the bill in which he/she agrees to transfer the account to me); and (3) una copia de la cedula de la persona autorizada (a copy of that person’s cedula or passport).

Very sincerely,


Find someone to translate this into Spanish for you, and make a few copies of your passport, the previous account holder’s documents, the translation (sign the copies, don’t copy the signature) and anything else you think might be relevant.

Whew, right?  The hardest part is getting that letter of authorization.  BTW, if you do go through with this effort, write yourself a note to provide a letter relinquishing the account when you move out.  Otherwise, you may be permanently liable for the electricity there.

If you decide the discount isn’t worth it, just leave it in your landlord’s name and pay it every month.  That’s a simple way to do things, and what most renters wind up doing. Landlords mostly prefer it because of the hassle of transfer, especially if the previous tenant forgets to de-responisbilidad himself.

Is the electricity discount significant?

jsw_new_math_electric_billIt’s all relative, isn’t it? I went through this process so I could get the discount.  Even though the bill is in Spanish, I sort of know what they are charging me for, and the important thing is that it’s about the same every month.  I am no math genius, but I have to say it seems to be calculated using some form of Really New Math.  This picture is a sample of what puzzles me.  The total that month was $13.49.

Of course, my usage is for lights,  a refrigerator, two fans about 24/7, and a computer.  Not a lot.  Occasionally I fire up the toaster, or the iron when I sew, or my magnetic hot-pad when the knee is a real pain. Still, not a lot.  I also have an electric fry pan as backup for that inevitable day once every four months when I run out of propane.  I pay about $13/ mo.  On two occasions it has been $5 and change.  Before I got the discount, I paid about $20 per month and had air conditioning at night in one room.

Please note that the main satisfaction I derive from my “reduced” electricity bill is being able to smirk at my friends when they tell me how high their bills are, which hover around the $40 mark.  That would be for two person households using hair dryers, microwaves, electric percolators, yada, yada, yada, of course.  But it doesn’t bother me to compare apples to oranges in this particular case, heh-heh.

Another charming difference between electricity bills here and back in the states is the delivery system.  Around the 10th of each month (ASK if your date is different) a man on foot speeds into my yard, hollers “Buenas!,” freaks out the dogs, puts the electric bill on my front porch and speeds off.  If I don’t look for it promptly, it blows away.  So be warned.  Check your delivery date.  And if the bill blows away, remember what I told you about the meter number.

I was told that the bill could be emailed to me, but so far that hasn’t happened.  Anyway, it would be less charming.