Tue | Oct 27, 2020

'Down-right thieves' - Middle-, upper-income households causing headache for JPS

Published:Sunday | December 9, 2018 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Ramsay McDonald (left), senior vice-president, customer services, Jamaica Public Service, and Rasheed Anderson, director, losses, operations and analytics, inspect one of the meters on display at the utility's New Kingston offices during a press conference to update the public on its fight against electricity theft.

Millions of dollars are being invested by some middle- to upper-income households to use sophisticated devices to steal electricity from the grid, intelligence from light-and-power company the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) has revealed.

The efforts of the JPS to cut losses due to theft continue to be frustrated as the new technologies go far beyond the most recognised form of illegal extraction - where dangerous webs are created resulting from wires being flung on to high-tension power lines.

"Many of us focus on what we tend to see when we drive around and, 'well, it's all concentrated in the inner city'. Well, unfortunately, it's all over, and that's something that we need to put a stop to," said Ramsay McDonald, JPS senior vice-president, corporate communica-tions and customer experience, speaking during a public forum on crime and electricity theft held at the Regional Headquarters of the University of the West Indies, in Mona, St Andrew, last week.

"We are seeing some very sophisticated systems where people have built into walls, built into their construction to allow for what they may deem to be more efficient use of electricity. But in other words, they are just down-right thieves."

The JPS executive revealed that more than 200,000 households across the country are stealing electricity, causing annual losses of US$70.8 million or 18 per cent of the overall fuel bill.

Some nine per cent of that the figure is due to illegal electricity extraction through conventional methods, while more sophisticated efforts in residential areas accounts for six per cent, said Rasheed Anderson, JPS director of losses, operations and analytics.

"When you look at the residential and commercial class, almost 80 to 90 per cent of it (theft) is usually through bypass and [the rest] due to meter tampering," he said.

However, JPS has sought to push back against electricity theft which continues to threaten its viability.

"Since the start of this year, we have uncovered close to 10,000 persons stealing. These are not just persons who are throwing up wires, or inactive, these are active customers with meters bypassing," Anderson disclosed.

On the flip side though, he said more than 170,000 throw-up connections have been removed since the start of the year.

Still, the light-and-power company faces an uphill battle to stem the scourge, as data presented at the forum suggests that the company's non-technical losses continue to slide despite major investment in anti-theft infrastructure including smart meters.