Honduras has finally succeeded in placing $250 million in bonds to be used to help pay down its debt to private energy providers, but first it had to sweeten the offering. As of July, 2014, Honduras had a debt of $355 million with private power producers.
Honduras's state energy company, Empresa Nacional de Energia Electrica (ENEE) pays private companies for power generation. That's not to say it doesn't generate power as well, but it generates far less that the country uses. It must therefore buy power from the Central American power grid, or pay private companies to generate the needed power in Honduras. Until recently, it has primarily paid private companies to generate the the rest.
Specifically, ENEE generates a maximum of 2567 Gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity (about 39%), while private producers generate a maximum of 3992 GWh (61 %). Most of ENEE's generation is hydroelectric, which cannot produce full output in drought years like Honduras has seen over the last several years.
Furthermore, until this year ENEE, courtesy of a law passed by the Honduran Congress, subsidized the first 250 Kilowatt hours (KWh ) of power used by poor households to make it essentially free. While the percentage of poor households has varied through time, its not dropped below 54% during the time this subsidy was in place and is currently around 63%. This policy encouraged increased electrical usage in the houses that were on the electrical grid, and it was only terminated in 2015.
ENEE owns the power grid in Honduras, but lacks the funding, technical skills, and equipment to properly maintain it so that measured loss in the power grid is sometimes over 25%. Loss is the difference between the power placed on the grid, and that paid for by customers. El Salvador has a 13% loss rate, Guatemala a 7% loss rate, and Nicaragua a 19% loss rate. Only about 10% of the loss is due to the transmission network itself; the rest is due to illegal connections and billing errors. ENEE historically has not disconnected users for non-payment, nor does it have the equipment to track electrical losses in particular circuits and thus know about illegal electrical connections. ENEE also has trouble getting customers to pay for electricity.
With the private power producers, ENEE has typically had contracts where it paid for the petroleum used to generate the power, and then paid another $0.06 to $0.20 per KWh to buy the generated power.
Its the above practices that drove ENEE deep into debt with the private power generators. In 2013 Honduras sold $215 million in ENEE bonds principally to help pay off its debt with private energy providers. Last August, Honduras attempted to place a further 5,268.8 million lempiras ($250 million) in bonds with a fixed interest rate of 10.5% but only was able to sell abut $34 million (728 million lempiras). Marlon Tabora, the President of the Honduran Central Bank, said that the market found the offered interest rate too low.
The sale results announced today were for a a different financial instrument, inflation indexed bonds of 5 and 10 years, some at 4% above inflation, and some at 4.5% above inflation. Honduras had averaged an inflation rate of 6.41% in November 2014.