The high incidence of electricity theft has always taken a heavy toll on Guyana Power and Light Inc (GPL), with the company losing about $5B annually.
Chief Executive Officer Bharrat Dindyal, at the conclusion of 2021, had said that, as an avenue to counter the company’s annual loss, in 2022, the company would be refocusing on prosecution of persons who steal electricity. He had also said that electricity theft accounted for about 60 per cent of the power company’s non-technical loss.
If the problem is to be abated, electricity theft needs more attention than it is getting.
The sooner this is realised, the sooner the company would be able to reduce the impact of electricity theft on paying consumers.
Contrary to widespread misconceptions, it is not only the power company that is affected when this problem occurs. Paying consumers face numerous problems as well, one of which is power imbalance.
GPL have a serious problem with power factor imbalance, and this is not all their fault. It is partly due to the large number of illegal, uncontrolled connections in their system. When generated electricity that should have been going towards paying customers is illegally taken by others, it creates a power imbalance problem. These many connections cause the unbalanced loading on the company’s phases. Paying customers whose power is out of balance could be registering more power than they actually use.
Although they had no involvement with the problem, they would find themselves facing higher bills. To put it another way, they would be paying larger bills because of illegal users.
Unfortunately, no matter how much the company attempts to rebalance their power supply, it could still be out of balance because of the increasing number of illegal users.
To quote the CEO: “We have had thousands of people who have been caught, who are in the courts, but the matters are languishing because we can’t dispense with three or four thousand cases… But we have to reintroduce prosecution.”
This newspaper had reported that the CEO had said that, at the end of 2021, there were some 15,000 illegal street lights across the country. He noted, too, that the company was also battling the fact that persons and companies, including some large entities, were hiring private personnel and even former GPL employees to tamper with meters.
There is no doubt that the culture of electricity theft has to be stopped if GPL is to come good and offer a reliable supply of electricity.
Over 10 years ago, the legislature approved tougher penalties for electricity theft.
This brings us back to the courts. The pace of these cases has to be expedited; the situation will not see the kind of change if this is not done – even with tougher penalties in place. We suggest that authorities discuss the establishment of a special arm to deal strictly with matters relating to the different utilities’ cases. Unlike criminal and civil cases, disputes with utilities are different, and need to be resolved with great dispatch. Tougher penalties and fast-paced prosecution may purge electricity theft to a great extent. Nevertheless, we are of the view that the practice would continue, and would stop only when every household and business is able to access affordable electricity.
Unfortunately, this is what GPL cannot provide, because of its limited resources and generating capacity. It is other energy source such as the Amaila Hydropower and gas-to-shore projects that could alleviate this gap.