(Reprinted from The Costa Rica Star. Used with Permission.)
One grumbling commonly expressed by North American expats residing in Costa Rica is related to their monthly electricity bills. Not only do they assert that they pay more in Costa Rica than they used to pay…(back home); they also assume that their new monthly bill has to be the most expensive in the world.
The dubious reasoning that accompanies this expat nagging usually goes along the lines of “Why should I pay so much in a Third World country that mostly gets its electricity from renewable sources?” In extreme cases, some expats believe they fall victim to “gringo pricing” in Costa Rica, whereby they believe that the local utility knows that they are foreigners and therefore are being charged more than their neighbors. Such complaints often come from expats who also believe that Costa Rica is the most expensive country in the world.
A 2014 survey of international electricity rates compiled by World Atlas does not list Costa Rica as the most expensive in terms of electricity costs. That would be Italy, which is probably why you never hear Italian expats complain about their monthly energy bills in Costa Rica; in fact, they barely complain about anything else. Interestingly, Costa Rica and Italy share a couple of electricity production aspects in common: no nuclear plants due to high seismicity and lots of hydroelectric generation thanks to abundant rivers.
It is estimated that the average electricity rate in Italy, the highest in the world, is about 21 cents (of the United States dollar) per kilowatt hour (kWh). Italy is followed by Germany, a nation known to take substantial advantage of residential solar energy panels, at 19 cents per kWh. Portugal is a little higher than Spain at 13.85 cents per kWh, and the list continues with Belgium, Slovakia, France, and other European nations until we come up with the U.S. at position 13 with an average 10 cents per kWh. Cheaper rates than the U.S. are found in Australia, South Africa, Finland, Canada, and Sweden.
The World Atlas list does not include Costa Rica, perhaps because it did not touch upon Third World countries. Still, we have the current electricity fees listed by the National Power and Light Company (Spanish initials: CNFL), which handles billing for a good portion of the Greater San Jose Metropolitan Area (Spanish initials: GAM).
As of July 2016, CNFL subscribers who consume between 0 and 300 kWh per month are charged three rates: assuming an exchange rate of 545 colones per $1, from 8:00 pm to 06:00 am, they pay 27.47 colones per kWh, which is about $0.05. From 06:00 am to 10:00 am and from 12:30 pm to 05:30 pm, they pay $0.12 per kWh. From 10:00 am to 12:30 pm and from 5:30 pm to 8:00 pm, when many expats in Costa Rica watch primetime programming from the U.S. on cable and satellite TV systems, they pay $0.29 per kWh.
Once monthly consumption exceeds 501 kWh for CNFL subscribers in Costa Rica, they could pay as much as $0.39 per kWh during the peak primetime periods mentioned above.
CNFL lists average consumption for a family of four in Costa Rica to be around 200 kWh per month.
In the end, depending on the monthly consumption and the period of use, electricity rates in Costa Rica could be as high as the average in Italy or as low as the average in the U.S. To the aforementioned expats, however, they will always be the most expensive in the world.
- “Does Costa Rica Have the Highest Electricity Rates in the World?”, by Jaime Lopez. The Costa Rica Star, Friday, March 22, 2019.
- Current electricity fees listed by the National Power and Light Company (CNFL)
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: How to Save on Your Electric Bill