JPS targets big fish

Company to go after medium and large businesses stealing electricity, as part of efforts to reduce US$240-m annual loss

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 18, 2019

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Increased technology to catch those who are determined to steal electricity because they don't want to pay, and Government assistance for those who steal electricity because they just cannot afford to pay, are two prongs of a multifaceted plan by the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) to reduce the amount it is losing through theft.

Chief financial officer of the JPS, Vernon Gordon says the company is determined to reduce the 18 per cent non-technical losses (theft) it recorded last year. This equates to approximately US$240 million.

According to Gordon, the theft of electricity, which is a major social issue, needs the intervention of the Government and work by the company through greater investment in technology.

But Gordon said business operators who are stealing electricity will be particularly targeted.

“Theft is theft; and while one could be more empathetic with someone who steals because they are not able to afford it, as a company we are selling something that is being stolen and it represents a real loss to us and a real loss to the paying customers,” Gordon told the Jamaica Observer in an exclusive interview, as he underlined that those who steal because they refuse to pay will be pursued and prosecuted.

“The more sophisticated [electricity thieves] actually invested a whole lot of money to do that and that's why the zeal is even more — irrespective of the fact that theft is theft,” declared Gordon.

He added: “Our programmes continue across the spectrum to deal with illegal connections to our network by removing them as well as using greater technology to detect — particularly where we believe there are large, medium-sized persons who are stealing for economic gains.

“Part of our investment in our smarter technology is to be able to find [these thieves] in a more surgical manner and go after them. Part of this involves a total metering infrastructure whereby we are able to measure energy being lost at a more granular level.”

Gordon noted that some of these businesses stealing electricity operate at odd hours in an effort to evade the JPS, but with the smart technology the company will be able to identify exactly when the electricity is stolen.

In the past four years the JPS has disconnected thousands of illegal connections to its grid, and Gordon noted that even after it goes after the big stealers these will not be ignored.

“We have the genuine poor, and if persons cannot afford electricity and water, which I consider a basic need, and then there is a funding issue of how it is going to be paid for. On the other hand there are persons who believe that, 'I should not pay for this'.

“And we are designing our approach both internally and to influence the external environment, particularly the Government, to address the problem — not in a one-brush-paint-all because we have a spectrum as to how this happens,” said Gordon.

He argued that persons who genuinely can't afford to pay for electricity it would need social programmes such as assistance to wire their houses and the introduction of a scheme similar to the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) to assist in them to acquire electricity.

“If somebody is genuinely poor for education…then we ought to consider how we assist those persons in a social programme, such as PATH, to get access to this (light and water). From an internal perspective we have…a lifeline mechanism where we make it much more affordable for the first 75 kilowatts, which is sold on a subsidised rate,” added Gordon who also pointed to the prepaid meters which allow persons to determine the amount of electricity they will use over a specified period.

In the meantime JPS recorded 8.24 per cent technical losses in 2018, but Gordon said that is close to the optimal level that it can reach.

“Where we are in terms of performance we are pretty much…almost there in terms of optimising that performance. Meaning, we are making certain investments in the next five years but we believe we are almost close to optimal performance, given that we have to get power to every crevice of this country.

“So when we evaluate where we are we think we are performing reasonably well, and the investments will make it just close to perfection. However there is a point, and when you go beyond that point you are investing money for zero return,” said Gordon.

“When you have to push power to Irish Town or Content Gap, for example, the fact that you have electricity being sent over those long distances, it doesn't make sense to try to put in something to save one cent because it will cost more than one cent to do it,” added Gordon.


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