Hard-pressed households looking forward to electricity price reductions instead this week were confronted with startling increases in bills well beyond the seasonal rise in demand or even what might be expected from the Covid 19 emergency lockdown. Minister of Energy Sontirat Sonthichirawong is treating the reports seriously and is investigating. It comes as the Thai cabinet is expected to approve a series of discounts to be backdated to March and to run until May. A proposed scheme for a free mobile service across network providers in May is also being mooted but it will exclude foreigners living in Thailand.

The Thai cabinet is being asked to give its imprimatur to a series of discounts on electricity bills for March, April and May which will benefit the least well off when it meets on Tuesday. However, any joy at this development has already been tempered by reports of anomalies in recent bills where users have seen skyrocketing charges in excess of 100% of their normal bill amounts. On Sunday, the Energy Minister Sontirat Sonthichirawong promised he would investigate the matter urgently. This was followed on Monday by a statement from the secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission, Thakorn Tanthasit, who held out the prospect of free mobile charges from May 1st. However, companies and foreigners will not be eligible for the offer if it is approved by Thailand’s mobile service providers.

The Minister of Energy Sontirat Sonthichirawong is investigating claims of skyrocketing electricity bills nationwide even as he pushes ahead with a discount scheme that will benefit 20 million Thai households. The secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission, Thakorn Tanthasit on Monday indicated that there may well be a free mobile internet service from May 1st but foreigners and companies will be excluded from the offer.

Thailand’s Energy Minister Sontirat Sonthichirawong was meeting urgently on Monday with electricity generation bodies following a rising tide of complaints about extraordinary spikes in electricity charges being reported by users throughout the country.

The move comes as the Thai cabinet gets ready to approve a proposed series of discounts which will benefit up to 20 million Thai households with over half of these receiving free electricity under a new scheme to help people through the economic hardship caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Fantastic increases in electricity charges being reported nationwide for February and March

On Sunday, Mr Sontirat who is also the secretary-general of the ruling Palang Pracharat Party, said he would also be meeting the Energy Regulatory Commission about the volume of complaints received. Many users around the kingdom are reporting fantastic increases in their electricity bills.

The minister, who has been focused on reducing electricity costs at this time, took to Twitter and made it clear that he was aware of the problem and was dealing with the issue: ‘I’m not taking the matter lightly,’ he tweeted.

March and April are Thailand’s peak months for energy consumption with even greater demand this year due to the Covid 19 crisis

The months of April and March are the periods of the year in Thailand when electricity usage is at its peak.

Many commentators are also noting that the lockdown has led to increased demand or power for cooking at home and air conditioning.

However, the reports being received appear to suggest that the excess bill amounts for March go beyond this. At the same time, other electricity users are reporting no increase in charges which is also peculiar.

Thai senator takes up the issue with the minister

The matter has been taken up by Senator Kamnoon Sidhisamarn who is a member of a parliamentary committee in Thailand responsible for tackling inequality and poverty.

In this case, the senator drew attention to representations of a friend whose apartment electricity bill rose from an average of between ฿1,600 to ฿1,900 per month to a massive ฿3,400.

User on Facebook talked of a 428% increase in his bill – ‘This is a household, not a factory’

His complaint was joined by a Facebook user Nattee Taweesit reported on the Bangkok Post whose bill rose from ฿1,800 in January to ฿3,800 in February before rising to a massive ฿6,000 in March.

Mr Nattee called for an investigation into the bills and described the charges as shocking and unacceptable.

‘Even if three more air conditioners and two refrigerators were installed, the charge shouldn’t have jumped three or four times,’ he complained. ‘This is a household, not a factory.’

Policeman sees over 100% surge in his electricity bill

A policeman was also among the people expressing their misgivings online.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Ekkarat Hun-ngam heads up Bang Saphan Noi police station in Prachuap Khiri Khan province.

He said his monthly bill had risen from ฿900 per month to ฿2,000 last month.

Governor of Provincial Electricity Authority urged users with high bills to ask for an investigation

The outcry has drawn a response from one of the electricity generation companies.

Somphong Prempri is the Governor of the Provincial Electricity Authority. He felt confident that some of the increase is due to the Covid 19 lockdown but asked anyone with concerns to contact the company.

He did not rule out the possibility that electricity leakage may be an issue in some situations saying that such charges would be refunded.

Cabinet reviews package of discounts for electricity charges which will benefit 20 million homes

The cabinet is due to consider the electricity bill relief measures on Tuesday for three months during the Covid 19 emergency.

However, before this, Senator Kamnoon had a proposal of his own. He called for the first ฿1,000 on each bill to be waived for the period and all customers to pay 50% of the bill thereafter.

The senator called on the minister to put his proposal to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha personally.

The package of discounts has been put together by the energy minister in consultation with all the other electricity partners and will apply to the period March, April and May.

Discounts are given on a tiered basis

The first waivers or discounts will be seen in the May bills for all customers in respect of April.

Discounts will be given on a tiered basis and will be given retrospectively for March and April.

For households using less than 150 units, then all electricity for March, April and May will be free and credits issued for payments in respect of March in May.

For those households using between 150 and 800 units, a 100% discount will apply on the difference between the March, April and May bills and that of February.

These discounts will be lowered to 50% for households using more than 800 units and 30% for households in excess of 3,000 units per month.

Foreigners need not apply for free mobile services being mooted from May 1st from all operators

On Monday also, the secretary-general of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission, Thakorn Tanthasit, indicated that he was in discussions with Thailand’s mobile operators.

He suggested that from May 1st, users would be provided with free mobile calls.

‘We could be looking at a totally free service with no burden on the government or the NBTC. If everything goes smoothly, this should come into effect on May 1st,’ Mr Thakorn told journalists. ‘Please stand by for more details, which should be announced in the next few days.’

However, there was a sting in the tail for foreigners. All foreigners and juristic persons meaning companies will be excluded from the offer.

Further reading:

PM calls in business tycoons to help the country crawl back to economic normality after virus catastrophe

Electricity price freeze requested by Deputy PM to help Thai households cope with the slower economy

Challenge of defeating both a health and economic emergency a big ask for Thailand’s government in crisis mode

UK ex WHO director warns of 2 to 3 years of chaos as IMF sees Thailand as the hardest hit economy in Asia

Irate self-employed go straight to the top over pernickety issues holding up Covid 19 income support payments

Thailand faces a third shock after the virus if high debt and the informal economy are not prioritised