Electricity firms links metering challenges to forex crises
More than three years after they took over operations of the power sector, the distribution companies (Discos), handling retail distribution and marketing of electricity in Nigeria, have not been able to effectively tackle the issue of metering, thereby leaving millions of their consumers at the mercy of estimated billings.
When the nation’s power sector was privatised, many Nigerians had hoped that things would get better, especially with regard to improving power supply and quality of services provided.
But, both the Ikeja Electric Distribution Company (DISCO) and Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) who lament the high cost of foreign exchange, insisted that they are trying their best to ensure every customers within their networks are metered.
Consumers had expected that upon the takeover by the new owners, metering would be one of the issues that will be urgently addressed to restore confidence in the billing system, as this is the only way to determine actual consumption of energy.
The Discos have a five-year agreement post-privatisation agreement with the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), to meter their customers. But three years down the line, the Discos seem to be in no hurry to fulfil their part of this agreement, preferring to hound customers with jaw-dropping estimated bills.
For this and many more reasons, some consumers including individuals and corporates prefer to provide electricity for themselves.Dammy Okegbami, a shipping consultant in Apapa, told The Guardian he has never used the public power in the four years he has been running his office, but relied on his generating sets.
He explained: “when I got to this complex four years ago all the occupants of this complex run their various businesses with power generators. Of course Eko Electricity Distribution Company brought us estimated billing that was very outrageous and very difficult for us to pay, so we all decided not to pay them and we were cut off.
“I applied for a pre-paid meter long time ago, the answer I got was that meter was not available. I spend N13,500 monthly to fuel my generator, which does not include the money I spend on the maintenance of the generator. If I had been properly metered I may not be paying this much, but still cheaper than the estimated bill,” he said.
Tunde Ibrahim, a residence of Ilasamaja, a Lagos suburb, told The Guardian he is being frustrated by the high estimated billing he has been subjected to for over two years.
According to him, “I live in a room and parlour and I usually paid less than N2,000 a per month before the prepaid meter I was using with my landlord got spoilt about two years ago. Since the meter got spoilt, we have been placed on estimated billing, the amount they bring keep increasing every month.
“There was a time we complained and they promised to do something about it, although the subsequent bill they brought after the complain was moderate, but the bill that they brought after that one went up again, so we do not know what exactly is wrong with this people,” he lamented.
A consumer, Blessing Okafor, who lives in Itire, another Lagos suburb, said while she is billed between N3,900 and N4,900 monthly for her one room self-contained apartment, her next door neighbour, who is on prepaid metering spends N2,000 monthly, even with more electrical appliances.
Okafor said although she has applied for a prepaid meter since 2013, she is yet to have one installed, as Ikeja Electric insists the meters are not available.
More frustrating, she said, is the fact that switches off all her appliances, when she went to work daily, but and her neighbour’s wife, who is mostly at home with her children and use more power end up paying less, while she paid more.
Another consumer, Mrs Tayo Odutola, complained that she went from paying N2,000 to N7,000/month after her prepaid meter got spoilt in 2014, and she was placed on estimated billing.
She said she has complained to Eko Disco about her ordeal and she was told to disregard what is on the bill and pay at least N3,000 monthly, to avoid being disconnected.
Speaking on the company’s efforts to meter every customer in its network, the Chief Executive Officer Oladele Amoda, said the devaluation of the Naira compared to the dollar has partly contributed to inadequate meters within the Eko Disco’s network.
But he said the Disco had signed an agreement with Mojek International, an indigenous smart meter manufacturing company, for the supply of over 100,000 meters in December.“We also signed another agreement with Huawei Technologies Company Limited, an international company based in this country, to supply the remaining 100,000 pre-paid meters.
“We have started metering consumers under our network with these meters. It is our responsibility to meter all consumers and we are looking at being able to deploy the 200,000 meters before the year runs out. The motive is to eliminate estimation of consumers billing by 2017,” he said.
Amoda said the company had been on a metering programme since 2015, and would have metered all its customers, but for some challenges confronting successful implementation of the scheme.
He listed inflation and increase in foreign exchange rate as challenges the company had to contend with.Also speaking with The Guardian yesterday, spokesman for Ikeja Electric Plc, Felix Ofulue, believed that the scarcity of dollars has increased the price of installing meters in the country.
He claimed the Disco had metered 90 per cent of its customers in the zone, to make the electricity billing based only on energy consumed.
He said the company is doing its best to ensure all its customers are metered, adding that “Recently, the estimated billings of consumers are coming down because more consumers are now under the company’s database.”
Ofulue however noted that: “The reason why it seems many costumers are yet to be metered is because there are a lot of developing areas under our network, which are yet to be reached; it is a gradual thing. We are not going to reach everybody the same day, but will definitely do our best.”