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Thursday July 25, 2024

Electricity theft to be stopped through policing, outsourcing bill collection

PM Shehbaz accorded approval to the Power Division’s proposed plan to cope with electricity theft of Rs380-400 billion annually

By Khalid Mustafa
December 16, 2022
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. PID
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. PID 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday in principle accorded approval to the Power Division’s proposed plan to cope with electricity theft of Rs380-400 billion annually through policing to enforce writ of electricity distribution companies (Discos) and outsourcing of electricity bills collection to private sector.

The high-profile meeting attended by ministers and top officials of the Energy Ministry (Petroleum and Power divisions) and Finance Ministry deliberated on the plan for coping with electricity theft. The meeting also considered power and petroleum sector issues such as gas crisis and load management. Option to import gas and oil were not discussed, senior officials who attended the meeting told The News.

“Huge losses have been observed in five Discos that include Tesco, Pesco, Qesco, Hesco and Sepco,” an official said. Mentioning the conservation of electricity, the official said that there were proposals to shut markets at 7 pm in winter and 8 pm in summer with 4 working days and one day of work from home in a week in public and private sector offices. It was also suggested that electric bikes should be encouraged for the masses to use for transportation. Medical stores would remain open for 24 hours. The conservation and steps to cope theft would be presented for further discussion in the federal cabinet for approval.

The meeting considered various scenarios by closing markets early, including the impact on fuel bill. The participants were told that the import bill can be reduced by $1.5 to $2.5 billion per annum provided the plan was fully enforced by all federating units. The prime minister also asked the authorities concerned to convert the public sector offices and main buildings to solar energy at a fast pace. The official, while quoting the presentation of Power Division on how to cope with electricity theft, revealed that the government will outsource the electricity billing collection to private companies and would award the contracts to this effect in the first quarter of 2023.

The government would also go for legislation allowing Discos to set up dedicated special police stations to deal with electricity theft. In addition, the government will increase the pace of installing Advanced Metering of Infrastructure (AMI) meters by June 2023 on all high-loss feeders’ transformers, starting with feeders with the highest loss in their jurisdiction in descending order.

The AMI system will also be installed on all industrial and commercial connections, bulk consumers and one-point supply in the descending order of their loads. This installation of the high-tech system without the man-intervention will help significantly reduce pilferage of electricity and technical losses as the decades-old conventional method of energy audit and accounting principle has failed to precisely identify energy stealing consumers and technical loss areas.

To this effect, the official said, a separate autonomous project directorate would be established. Each Disco would share the timeline of completion of these projects with a dedicated project director, other teams and the Power Division.

To a question, the official said that once feeder coding was corrected and consumers’ reference numbers were indexed with correct transformers, it would be easier for Discos to outsource transformers and feeders. Reading would be taken remotely through real-time GSM technology (no need for meter readers) and recovery could be outsourced.

There would also be an option to disconnect the meter remotely while sitting in office. However, for equipment removal, a third party could be engaged if needed. He said outsourcing of bill distribution was possible if the phone numbers of consumers were collected. A PDF e-bill could be sent to consumers on their smartphones with just one click.

The Discos will also align with meter manufacturers and contractors for specifications, features, and implementation of AMI. The areas with weak or missing mobile signals and meters communicating through PLCs (Power Carrier Lines) and DCUs (Data Concentrator Units) at transformers may be used.