Tuesday 25 September, 2018

Utility companies outline the ‘crosses’ they are bearing

The island’s main utility companies claim to be losing millions of dollars due to theft of service and equipment, a significant problem which they say is affecting not just their bottom lines, but the services to their customers as well.

This was disclosed at a webinar hosted by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) on Tuesday, July 31.

The webinar, entitled: ‘Do the Right Thing: How Theft Impacts your Utility Services’, saw for the first time, representatives of all the major utility companies converging to speak on the issue and how it is impacting them and their customers.

Director of Losses Operations and Analytics at the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPS), Rasheed Anderson, said the light and power company estimates that approximately 200,000 households and commercial entities are stealing electricity across the country. This compared to the approximately 600,000 legitimate customers on the entity’s system.

According to Anderson, “When persons steal electricity, it impacts the quality and reliability of our power, it damages equipment that are essential to serving you, and we have seen in many instances where sometimes people are out of power due to persons stealing from us.”

He further asserted that in 2017, JPS paid US$70.8 million for fuel that was not recovered, and that to date for 2018, US$32.2 million was spent on fuel which was not recovered.

The National Water Commission (NWC) says it estimates that between 12 and 30 per cent of the water produced by the entity is stolen.

Corporate Communications Manager at the NWC, Charles Buchanan, said the NWC estimates that approximately 250,000 to 300,000 connections are involved in the theft of water locally.

“We categorise the instances of theft affecting our operations in primarily four ways: Infrastructure theft; theft from our employees, which has created significant issues in our ability to carry out work in certain areas; theft in our watershed areas, and theft of service and supplies,” Buchanan outlined.

“We continue to see illegal connections, meter tampering and meter bypasses, illegal use of water from hydrants, and illegal commercial and other types of consumption,” he added, noting that the significant levels of theft are costing the water company millions of dollars annually.

Telecommunications companies Digicel and FLOW reported that they are also being significantly impacted by theft and vandalism. This includes theft of cables, generators, batteries and fuel.

Director of Corporate Communications and Stakeholder Management at FLOW, Kayon Mitchell, says so far this year, approximately 51 communities have been affected by theft and vandalism, costing FLOW US$1.9 million to restore services. This compared to a cost of US$6 million to restore services in 2015 and 2016.

Digicel, which is experiencing similar issues of theft and vandalism, said expensive equipment, including batteries placed at cell sites, are being stolen and sold as scrap metal.

Group Head of Field Operations Management at Digicel, Anthony Barrows, said batteries which cost the company approximately J$80,000 each are being sold as scrap metal for less than J$2,000 each.

The OUR has been putting the spotlight on theft of utility services and equipment, and has launched a media campaign relative to the issue.

OUR Director General, Ansord E Hewitt, said apart from the losses to the utility companies and the subsidies that have to borne by the paying rate payers, he is also deeply concerned about the disruption to economic life, the risk to life and limbs, and the inconvenience being imposed on the country by the practice.