Energy Conservation

Swings and roundabouts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 August, 2008, 12:00am

Life is full of coincidences. Last month, the government decided to double to HK$3,600 the annual subsidy (capped at HK$300 per month) towards the electricity bills of Hong Kong's 2.4 million-plus households. If every household spends up to their monthly limit, the extension will cost HK$4.4 billion - which, as it goes, is the same amount of money that has been collected for the Employees Retraining Fund from levies on contracts of foreign domestic helpers.

On the credit side, then, the government has a poorly justified HK$4.4 billion raised from the employers of home help and, on the debit side, it plans to add the same amount to the giveaway to the suppliers - whoops, sorry ... consumers - of electricity.

While the government's competence has repeatedly been questioned over its handling of the maid levy, it's also worth pondering the rationale behind its power relief. Is it responsible to encourage the use of electricity in an age beset by problems brought about by profligate energy habits? Wouldn't it have made more sense to have bought every household HK$3,600 worth of compact fluorescent lamp bulbs or given each vouchers towards energy-efficient appliances ... or spent the money on anything that would have been of long-term benefit to Hong Kong's citizenry and its environment?

CLP Holdings and Hongkong Electric shareholders would probably disagree. And if they have taken advantage of the four-year exemption loophole on the domestic helper levy (a triple whammy) they'll be laughing - or perhaps choking - all the way to the bank.