Mon | May 20, 2019

Even hotels stealing light - Up to 40% of legitimate JPS customers creaming off energy; throw-up culture normalises crime among children

Published:Sunday | April 28, 2019 | 12:30 AMCorey Robinson - Staff Reporter
Gary Barrow, JPS’s chief operating officer.
Gary Barrow, JPS’s chief operating officer.

Mid-level hotels are among unscrupulous customers that the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) says it will be going after as the power provider moves to drive down electricity theft through its smart meter initiative.

Last year, 89 persons were arrested for electricity theft by the police, and while the JPS said 68 of those were illegal consumers using ‘throw-ups’ to steal power in impoverished communities, the others were legitimate paying customers who find more clandestine ways of fleecing the company.

At least 28 of the persons arrested were operating businesses.

This year, 44 persons have been arrested, 20 of whom were illegal consumers, while the remaining 24 were paying clients on the grid. A total of 10 of those arrested were business operators, among them barbers, hairdressers, and some medium-scale hoteliers.

“We estimate that there are about 150,000 to 180,000 consumers who are extracting electricity illegally and who are not customers. They are a significant portion of the total losses that JPS and, ultimately, Jamaica contend with,” explained Gary Barrow, JPS chief operating officer, last Wednesday.

“But we also have electricity theft in paying customers, and they use various mechanisms, primarily bypasses and line taps. At this point in time, JPS is working with a number of vendors to put in the appropriate technologies and processes to be able to effectively detect the theft of electricity and to work with the enforcement agencies to effect the arrests,” he stressed, adding that smart meter technology will help to narrow down and identify these covert thieves.

According to Barrow, JPS loses about US$70 million (J$9 billion) annually to electricity theft, but that figure does not capture the full scale of the haemorrhage, as it is limited to the cost of the fuel used to produce electricity. All told, the bleeding tops J$15 billion.

At least 18 cents in every dollar a customer pays represent a partial clawback by JPS for power theft.

While it is easier to detect and remove throw-ups openly on display in some communities, the theft of electricity by paying customers is more challenging, though it is estimated that about 40 per cent of paying customers are stealing electricity to some extent.

SOPHISTICATED TECHNOLOGY

“For the consumers, it is challenging for us because we do go into some volatile areas, and we have to go in with the police … . On the other side, the paying customers use more sophisticated methods, so we have to use a combination of audits, and some of the customers we target, we are really informed by the technologies,” said Barrow.

“The bottom line is that it is a crime and children are being exposed to this crime. It is a starter crime. The children see it happen, they see their parents doing it, and so they think it is okay, but it can lead to other crimes. This is really a socio-economic issue that needs to be addressed through a public-private partnership,” he added.

Last month, JPS President and CEO Emanuel DaRosa explained that the smart meter initiative, while providing greater accessibility for customers, is also feeding the company information on perpetrators.

“We have a lot more information than we have ever had. There was a perception that a lot of stealing was going on in richer areas – and I am not saying that it doesn’t happen – but not to the extent that people believe,” said the president.

At a projected rate of 100,000 smart meters being rolled out annually, JPS will have full installation for its 650,000 customers by 2023.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com