Daily News: Thefts hit ratepayers Power cheats behind city’s 30% hikes

Abahlali baseMjondolo’s Operation Khanyisa has always been non-commodified and conducted in a very safe and careful way. There have been no accidents. But media coverage of self organised connections, including those undertaken via, Operation Khanyisa has generally been entirely propogandistic (and often straightforwadly dishonest) and driven by attempts by politicians, officials and police officers to generate a social panic around the popular appropriation of electricity rather than any serious engagement with the issues.


Thefts hit ratepayers
Power cheats behind city’s 30% hikes

February 01, 2010 Edition 3


ELECTRICITY theft and illegal connections cost the eThekwini Municipality more than a R135 million a year – losses for which ratepayers will have to fork out.

With authorities already planning electricity increases of at least 30 percent in each of the next three years, irrespective of the stiff tariffs Eskom is presently applying for, the picture is not rosy for ratepayers.

In the 2008/9 financial year more than R135m was lost to power theft and theft of copper wiring and transformers.

Power theft has resulted in losses of more than R100m annually to the municipality annually over the past five years and everything points towards a similar loss for the 2009/2010 financial year.

At the National Energy Regulator of SA (Nersa) hearings in Durban last month, Cosatu’s Zet Luzipo and the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers warned that Eskom’s proposed tariff hike would lead to more illegal connections because electricity users could not afford the cost of power.

“This tariff hike will have far-reaching implications. One of them will be the escalation of energy theft,” said Du Toit Grobler, the institute’s president.

Luzipo, Cosatu’s secretary in KwaZulu-Natal, said the electricity hike would force people to resort to illegal connections and the use of dangerous forms of energy.

These included burning coal indoors and paraffin stoves.

Deena Govender, senior manager of commercial engineering and marketing in the municipality’s electricity department, said losses of R55m were incurred because of illegal electricity connections between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009.

A further R80m was lost as a result of the theft of copper wiring, transformers and other cables from power installations, particularly electrical substations in and around Durban.

Eskom, which provides 95 percent of the country’s power, has to foot a R385 billion bill to build more power stations to cope with rising demand.

During countrywide public hearings, held by Nersa over 10 days and ending recently, companies, academics, human rights and wildlife groups, political figures and organised labour took the final opportunity to convince the Nersa panel not to support Eskom’s plan to turn to consumers to fund three annual increases of 35 percent each, starting this year.

Nersa is expected to rule on the power utility’s application on February 24.

Whatever Nersa decides is appropriate for Eskom, eThekwini ratepayers will face the parastatal’s tariff hike followed by the municipal increase.

Govender said the city recovered income lost as a result of power theft by increasing the electricity tariff for paying customers throughout the Durban area.

“For the past five years, electricity that has been stolen has varied between 2 percent and 3 percent (of turnover),” he said.

Thami Bolani, chairman of the National Consumer Forum, said it was unfair for paying customers to be charged for illegal connections.

“The municipality should not choose making a profit over the financial constraints of people.”

At Clare Estate’s Kennedy Road informal settlement, power “landlords” have been hooking their own power lines to electricity poles in the evenings and tapping into the grid, before taking them down at dawn.

“The electricity landlords are the ones that make the illegal connections on the poles and they make sure that they disconnect the electricity by taking the wires off the pole every morning,” said a resident.

“Two wires are used and those wires are then connected to another two wires buried underneath the ground which lead into a house. From there, it is then distributed through many wires that lead to other houses,” he said.

The man said he was aware of more than a dozen electricity landlords, each of whom distributed electricity illegally to between 10 and 20 residents for a monthly fee of R120 to R150.

Last year, four people – two children and two adults – died after they were electrocuted at the Kennedy Road settlement, but electricity thieves are widely at work, from Isipingo to Hammarsdale.

Nathi Nkwanyana, senior manager for revenue protection at the electricity department, said: “We are appealing to informal settlement residents to refrain from hiring bogus contractors to connect electricity illegally to their homes.”