By Atom Markarian
A group of six public organizations has issued a statement calling into question last week’s decision of the state regulatory body to sanction a drastic increase in the price of natural gas supplied to Armenian households and industrial enterprises.
The Union of Public Defenders claimed at a press conference on Tuesday that the Public Service Regulatory Commission (PSRC) had made its decision ‘behind the public’s back, failing to keep to the procedures envisaged by the law.’
The organizers of the press conference unveiled their plans to invite a roundtable at the end of this month in the hope of getting answers to all the questions they have in this regard.
The PSRC ruled on March 10 to allow the ArmRosGazprom (ARG) operator to charge individual consumers 90 drams (20 U.S. cents) per one cubic meter of gas, or 50 percent more than it does now, starting from April 10. The gas price for thermal power plants and chemical enterprises will nearly be doubled to 66 drams per cubic meter.
The approved tariffs are only slightly lower than those requested by ARG. The highly unpopular measure is also expected to push up the retail price of electricity which many Armenians already find barely affordable. Senior officials at the Armenian Energy Ministry have estimated it will likely rise by 15 percent to 29 drams (6.5 cents) per kilowatt/hour.
Chairman of the Consumers’ Protection Union of Armenia Abgar Yeghoyan regretted the fact that unlike the Regulatory Commission’s representatives, no ARG official cared to attend a roundtable discussion dealing with the tariff issue they organized on March 1. “We hope that all parties concerned will attend the next roundtable and our experts will be able to show what reserve this tariff had,” he told RFE/RL.
Yeghoyan argues that the increase in the tariff was not grounded at least in the part concerning operation and maintenance expenditures. He believes that the tariff for individual gas consumers could have been set, for example, at 80 drams and says that at this moment the 40 percent rise in salaries of ArmRosgazprom’s staff is not expedient.
For his part, Chairman of the Communities Union of Armenia Aram Grigorian said: “We will try to organize certain actions connected with the regulation matters in the public utilities sector. Regulation is a little different from decision-making in state bodies. It is our task to influence the regulation process through defending our own interests.”