Saturday, April 18, 2009

CFE Woes

At the Blogger Summit alluded to in an earlier post today, it was suggested to me by my good friend Ellen that I should/could write more from the unique vantage point that being married to a Yucatecan has given me.


Turns out that our good friends at the CFE (Comision Federal de Electricidad for those new to the initials) have been billing yours truly incorrectly. Yes, the bills have been rather low, almost to the point of being ridiculously low, but I attributed it mostly to the fact that both teenagers are out of the house and the adults are working all day and rarely use air conditioning, thanks to high ceilings and plenty of fans.

In any case, the Mexican in me found it rather stupid to actually go to the CFE and say "Hey, I'm paying too little, can you check this for me". The Mexican thinks "Do I look like a p****o?"

The Canadian in me of course, was thinking it the whole time.

Finally, the CFE, perhaps with the stimulus of the economic downturn or for whatever reason (if reasons are to be found at the CFE in their decision making processes) decided to check the entire neighborhood. This entails going from house to house, leaving notices that will freeze your blood - they are notorious for imposing enormous sanctions on businesses or private residences that have problems with their electrical usage - advising you, Mr. or Mrs. Homeowner that the CFE wants to check your medidor and is making an appointment with you via the notification.

I don't know how to translate this, so briefly: the medidor is that glass encased mechanism at the front of your property that has the spinning thingie inside and tells the CFE how much wattage you are consuming. Oh look, there's a photo right there.

While you wait for the appointed moment, you sweat, you bite your nails, you stare at the ceiling unable to sleep, you call a lawyer who specializes in CFE abuse cases; all the symptoms usually associated with something more violent, like a kidnapping .

Finally the day arrives, and the abnormally polite CFE technician and you, the nervous customer meet at your medidor where another CFE guy removes the medidor, attaches another, different aparatus. Your old medidor is attached on top of that.

"What's that for?"

"It's for measuring the actual current coming through the line directly. It will tell us how much current is going through to the medidor."

Several tests are made, they are offered a glass of pineapple agua with ice which they gratefully accept and then the diagnosis is complete. The medidor is not working properly. There is something inside that has been damaged or burned out and so they have found what they are looking for, validating their inspection. This is not something caused by us, the homeowners, it's a mechanical failure of some sort.

"What now?" we ask nervously.

"Well, we are going to install a new medidor" we are told matter of factly. "There was a problem with this one and it evidently resulted in you being billed less than your real consumption"

"And then?"

"After a period of about 15 days, we will take a reading and determine what you should have paid, compare that with what you actually paid and present you with the difference, which will have to be paid."


We have heard horror stories about these visits from the CFE. However, a lot of these horror stories are the fault of the homeowner, who has opted to hire an electrician or corrupt CFE employee, to alter the medidor so that it spins more slowly thereby causing a reduction in the bill, or worse, having an installation that BYPASSES the medidor altogether. This latter option is called a 'diablito' and if you are caught with one, you WILL pay BIG time. In fact it is a crime known as Robo a la Nación or Stealing from the Nation. You have to live here to appreciate how insanely attached Mexicans are to their simbolos patrios and the CFE is practically up there with the flag. To steal from the CFE is like betraying the country. Almost firing squad material.

This was not our case. It was a simple case of a mechanical failure.

Yesterday, we got the bill. It comes to $19,000 pesos. The difference between what we paid and what we should have paid, for the last 24 months.

And this is where Ellen's comment comes in:

The Canadian in me is saying "Why the hell am I responsible for the CFE's equipment!! This is outrageous! If I buy Ben and Jerry's ice cream at Walmart can they come back 24 months later and say, 'you know what, that price was wrong, you're going to have to pay the difference'. What the hell! I'm ready to go to the PROFECO!"

The Yucatecan Mexican in me however, is saying, "Well, $19,000 pesos is not so bad. Let's just pay it and get it over with. After all, our friend Fulana got hit with a $50,000 bill so this is much better. Hell the CFE even gives me the option of paying in monthly installments. Just pay and shut up about it."

So there you have it.

Kind of a long story but what Ellen said struck a chord. I had both reactions at the same time. One Mexican, one Canadian. Which one will prevail? Probably the Mexican. My fellow homeowner and much better half is Mexican as well. Simple majority.


Jonna said...

Ellen was right, this is interesting stuff.

I'm wondering though, could you negotiate this amount? I've heard that when you get presented with one of these in arrears bills, you can make an offer and then meet somewhere in the middle. Perhaps this is only in QRoo, where corruption is more blatant. Did the Mexican (or Yucatecan) half of you consider making them an offer?

It's also interesting about CFE being next to God and Country, I rather thought ripping them off was a national pastime. Diablitos are pretty common in some areas. The best one I heard of though was a line behind the meter (on the roof) from one house (owned by a gringo) to the neighbors house, free electric for them but the bill was always paid.

Ellen a.k.a. Working Gringa said...

Um, I had such a similar experience. We were hit with the aforementioned $50,000 peso bill. The American in me was LIVID. Excuse me??? YOU didn't bill me correctly, and now you want me to make up for your mistake.
The new Mexican in me realized there is nothing I can do about it and paid.
Of course, the American in me doesn't give up that easily. At the first chance I get, I'm installing solar panels :-)

William Lawson said...

Ellen - that's the amount we were expecting to get hooked with and then we would have probably squirmed and wriggled. Did you see the solar panels in Costco? There was one left when I was last there. They don't sell the storage batteries though.

Jonna - there is probably some wriggling room and negotiation is a possibility; however, my better half has her name on the recibo and doesn't feel inclined to mover las aguas if you know what I mean. So we'll probably just pay it in installments.

mcm said...

Well -- interesting...about CFE checking up on "arrears". Over the last twelve years our usage has been around 450-500KWH per billing period. For the last two billing cycles, it's been around 300KWH. Big bonus, we thought...but just maybe it might be an idea to have CFE check our meter. I figured it was probably too good to be true. Sigh.
Question -- at what RATE per KWH were you billed for the arrears -- the highest subsidized rate (excedente)? Or did they stick it to you at the DAC (unsubsidized rate). Might be worth looking into....

William Lawson said...

Good question MCM - there's a printout of what was paid, a print out of should have been paid, and a print out of what's to pay. Like I said, I believe we are going to pay this as-is, without making a fuss. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi guys,

You can't fight with commission. I've already been to profeco and they've got it all worked out. I completely disagree that Commission is linked with patriotism down here, most the people I know hate them and would cheat on their bills in a heartbeat...and most of them do. If you're used to living a gringo lifestyle, you're going to be bumped up to DAC which is going to mean paying around 3 pesos per kilowatt hour. Getting tons of 65 watt solar panels won't get you even close to this. I have 2 sets of the Costco ones rigged up with the Marine batteries and they work enough to produce maybe 1kwh per day...that's 3 cents a day. Our solution has been going on long vacations during the summer and enjoying central air in the U.S. This is a very corrupt country, get used to it.

William Lawson said...

Agree with everything you wrote. It's a mafia. The patriotism thing was not meant to imply that Mexicans are proud of their CFE, it's the politicians like simplisitically populist Lopez Obrador who wrap Pemex and CFE in the flag, along with some of their more vocal supporters. And the unions, for sure.