Electricity theft, meter by pass; twin evil thwarting NESI efficiency

Energyday Editorial

It is no longer news that electricity theft is a pervasive problem in Nigeria, but quite worrisome that the bugbear seems an insurmountable one.

The continuous announcement of loss of bogus, unsubstantiated amounts of huge funds by the distribution companies (DisCos), usually attributed to electricity theft and meter bypass makes Nigerians to wonder if someone is not playing pranks with stakeholders in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI).

Only recently, it was reported that the electricity distribution companies in Nigeria (DisCos) lost about ₦30 billion every month owing to electricity theft and meter bypass. This amount is whopping, and if significantly reduced and spent on the power infrastructure and management, it would improve the power situation in the country. But how true is the figure, and could they tell us how they arrived at the figure?

Specifically, the management of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHED), said it lost about 30 percent of its anticipated revenue to meter bypass on monthly basis.

No doubt, any serious business that incurs such humongous loss may be heading to extinction in no distant time.

Describing the situation as unacceptable, PHED stated that meter bypass is a criminal offence punishable under the law, as enshrined in section 94 (3) of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA), as well as in the Miscellaneous Offences Act.

PHED further said; “From inception in 2013, the company has been battling with many odds militating against its sustainability ranging from energy theft, illegal reconnection, intimidation & harassment, non-payment of electricity bill, staff assault and to meter bypass with the latter out of control.

“Henceforth, we will no longer accept mere disconnection for meter bypass as anyone apprehended would be immediately reported to the Police with sufficient evidence for prosecution including naming and shaming through various media channels.

“PHED will collaborate with security agencies and a crack team of anti-energy theft squad to work on a daily basis with the Revenue Protection Department of the company to achieve its goal of bringing all perpetrators to book.

“Section 94 (3) of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act, says notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, any person who wilfully destroys, injures or removes equipment or apparatus of a licensee commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period of not less than five (5) years and not more than seven (7) years.

“Also, under Section 400 of Nigerian Criminal Code, any person who fraudulently abstracts or diverts to his own use or to the use of any other person any mechanical, illuminating, or electrical power derived from any machine apparatus, or substance, the property of another person, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for three years.

Similarly, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), has come up with reviewed penalties for electricity customers involved in unauthorised access to electricity supply by tampering and meter bypass by electricity, the phenomenon still persists.

The review according the Commission was undertaken following several complaints it received from the DisCos on the ugly incidents.

According to a circular entitled, “Order on unauthorised access, meter tampering and by-pass order no: NERC/REG/41/2017, and signed by the Vice Chairman of NERC, Sanusi Garba and Commissioner, Legal, Licensing & Compliance Dafe C. Akpeneye, respectively, authorised DisCos to disconnect unauthorised distribution network.

According to the Commission, “Any single phase residential customer that gains unauthorised access to electricity by tampering or meter bypass shall be reconnected upon payment of the reconnection costs of N50,000.00 initial and 75,000.00 for subsequent incidents.

For three phase residential customers, violators of this order are expected to pay N100,000.00 for initial incident and fine of N150,000.00 for subsequent incidents, while single phase commercial would pay N50,000.00 and N75,000.00, as well as three phase commercial fine of N100,000.00 and N100,000.00, respectively.

The Commission also noted that “The initial incident of unauthorised access to electricity by tampering or bypassing an Maximum Demand (MD) meter shall attract a reconnection cost of 300% of the last authorised recorded monthly consumption of the customer. Subsequent incidents of unauthorised access to electricity by tampering or bypassing an MD meter shall attract a reconnection cost of 450% of the last authorised recorded monthly consumption of the customer.

EnergyDay is convinced that the penalties regime has not in anyway led to a downward spiral in the phenomenon.

To underscore the serious and damaging implications of this ugly spectre to the overall efficiency of DisCos, the
management of Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO) recently asked customers to report suspected cases of meter bypass and get compensation.

Ibrahim Shawai, KEDCO’s head of corporate communications, said the information will be treated with confidentiality and the whistleblower will get five percent of what the defaulters are charged.

Shawai said the activities to be reported include energy theft and electrical equipment vandalism, which causes serious economic sabotage and requires efforts by all stakeholders to address.

“Power installations and equipment are to ensure adequate and constant power supply to all our numerous customers so any attempt to sabotage such installations affect both KEDCO and customers,” Shawai said.

It is pertinent to note that electricity is one of the main drivers of any progressive economy around the world. It drives most human activities and adds value to human
lives. One of the factors that enhanced the developed nations in achieving such coveted status is electricity reliability. In fact, it is a common belief that any nation that aims to develop, but is still being plagued by energy theft and meter bypass is not ready yet.

Electricity attracts investments into any country of the world that could sustain its reliability, and that eventually leads to economic prosperity. Despite being referred to as the giant of Africa, the power problems in Nigeria have demystified this acclaimed status, and have made the country a hostile ground for investments.

It is the view of this medium that electricity is a commodity that should be well managed and guarded jealously to make its impact fully felt in the society.

This medium like most Nigerians is persuaded by the argument that if there’s any threat facing power supply, a major plank of it will be electricity theft. This is an age-long problem that has been plaguing the power industries for a very long time.
This has hampered electricity reliability and sustainability in the country.

The challenge the sector is bedevilled with will not disappear anytime soon, because of the endemic and alarming spate of electricity theft. This has hindered the reliability and sustainability of electricity supply in the country, and has in turn stalled economic growth.

The two types of energy losses in the electrical power system are the technical loss and the non-technical loss (NTL). Technical loss is the loss that occurs naturally, as a result of dissipation of energy in the power transmission and distribution equipment, while NTL or commercial loss, occurs owing to actions that are external to the electrical power system. Electricity theft is the main cause of NTL, or culminates a major chunk of NTL, reason the two terms are used interchangeably.

The losses in the electrical power system is the difference between the energy fed into the distribution system and the energy billed. This difference is otherwise known as electricity theft .

It causes economic loses, damages to the grid infrastructures, and this eventually leads to irregularities in power supply.

It is disturbing that the little electricity generated is also being stolen by some unscrupulous consumers. Electricity theft is a major factor that causes the epileptic and the ineffective supply of electricity in Nigeria .

Electricity theft has really created more havoc to the Nigerian power sector, and the stride to achieving a steady power supply in the country
has been further reduced to a mere dream.

EnergyDay is inclined to advise DisCo to go for the
deployment of Smart Grid (SG) with its inherent smart metering as a solution to the electricity theft situation in Nigeria, as a result of its improved flexibility, security and reliability.

Smart Grid also supports energy diversification, by allowing the integration of various renewable energy sources into the conventional power grid. This will tend to help in improving the epileptic power situation in the country.