EDITORIAL - Power thieves must be stopped
The threatened viability of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) is something that demands national attention, especially as it is estimated that as many as 200,000 households are stealing electricity.
As Kelly Tomblin, CEO of the light and power company, pointed out this week, no company can remain viable if it is faced with monthly losses of $2 to $3 million. These losses are bound to affect the company's ability to invest in new systems and provide reliable service to its customers. Power thieves threaten the stability of our power supply. And if businesses are affected, it can also threaten jobs.
Even though electricity theft is an age-old problem, it does not rank very high on the agenda of economic issues confronting the country. But without a dependable and efficient power-supply system, economic development will be seriously retarded.
The JPS suggests that the menace of power theft is occurring among both poor and wealthy residents as well as commercial clients. While some of the culprits find ways to avoid paying their fair share for electricity usage, others pay nothing at all.
Although poor customers may not have as many energy-gobbling appliances as their commercial partners in crime, there is anecdotal evidence that they tend to use their stolen power rather indiscriminately. At the end of each month, it is honest, metered customers that bear the burden. And what a heavy burden it has become! Jamaica is noted to have one of the highest electricity rates in the Caribbean.
Smart meters are designed to improve efficiency, cut consumption and carbon emission, and are also tamper-resistant, making them a crucial tool to combat electricity theft around the world. In Brazil, for example, there is a plan to install 60 million smart meters by 2020. India, the Dominican Republic, Uganda, Eastern Europe, South Africa and, of course, Jamaica, have all introduced smart meters in an attempt to staunch electricity theft.
At a recent conference of power executives from 35 countries held in Boston, USA, as the CEOs compared notes, they acknowledged that electricity theft had become a worldwide epidemic. In the United States alone, electricity theft was placed at US$6 billion a year. This is not to diminish the seriousness of the problem facing the JPS, but merely to indicate how widespread this phenomenon has become.
Ms Tomblin demanded a multifaceted approach to what she identified as a socio-economic problem. Let's be clear: This is not a JPS problem, it is Jamaica's problem. The ease with which persons wave off criminal activities like the lottery scam, Ponzi schemes and scrap-metal theft is a good indication that it will take a mammoth national effort and change of attitude to deal with power theft.
This criminal activity is not getting the focus it deserves. Persons who know of this illegal activity should not be afraid to speak out or call the JPS with details of the cheaters. It cannot be left to the utility company alone to detect and prevent the theft of electricity.
Let's not forget that stealing power is a dangerous practice which can result in serious injury and even death. When someone steals, the community pays.
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