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Prepaid meter system needed for better power supply

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By Reyivolü Rhakho Updated: Apr 20, 2021 11:02 pm
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A prepaid energy meter installed and commissioned at a private residence in Kohima. (EM Images)

Reyivolü Rhakho
Kohima, April 19 (EMN): As energy crisis deepens in Nagaland mainly due to alleged rampant power theft, pilferage and non-payment of utility bills by the citizens, causing a loss of over INR 200 crore to the state exchequer every year, prepaid energy meter system was introduced in Kohima and Dimapur but it seems all is not well yet.   

In an interaction with Eastern Mirror, Executive Engineer of Kohima Electrical Division (KED), department of Power, Rükongutuo Suohu discussed how prepaid metering system came about and the status so far after commissioning was launched in October 2020 in Kohima and then in November in Dimapur the same year.

The prepaid electricity meter system installation project is a centrally-assisted initiative under Integrated Power Development Scheme (IPDS) to address inaccurate billings, customer satisfaction, and reduction of Aggregate Technical and Commercial (AT&C) losses.

Suohu informed that a pilot project was first introduced at Marwari Patti in Dimapur, wherein hundred prepaid electricity metering systems were commissioned. It turned out to be a “huge success”, and hence decided to upscale it.

He said that a total of 20,000 meters were received from the Centre- 9000 meters for Kohima and 11,000 for Dimapur.

‘All installations, commissioning, running, and monitoring are done by a private party — Universal Power Solutions — while the department takes care of monetary transactions,’ he added.

It may be mentioned that Dimapur alone consumes about 50% of state’s electricity supply while Kohima consumes 20%, taking the combined consumption to 70% of the state’s electricity supply, according to state government’s report.

“In Nagaland, normally about 1.5 lakh to two lakh consume power. If the department is to provide a prepaid meter system to all consumers, it is a bit too high in asking, as the cost is very high,” he said.

9000 pre-paid meters for Kohima municipality

Speaking about the prepaid scenario in Kohima, he informed that out of 9000 meters for the district, about 500 were three-phased and the rest 8500 were for the general and single-phase. The three-phase was for mobile towers. Meanwhile, about 1000 (from total) has been kept aside in case of replacement, new connections, defects or in case somebody from an earmarked area needs it.

The KED has already identified about 8000 consumers from the total meters. The areas include New Minister’s Hill, Old Minister’s Hill, Forest Colony, Agri Colony, Electrical Colony, Jail Colony, etc., given the fact that these are contiguous areas.

Further, these areas were earmarked as the electrical network is arranged in such a way that power comes to receiving-end substations (RESs) at Old Minister’s Hill. From there, it is distributed to the identified places and KED will have better control of that area, Suohu added.

As long as the meter system is available, the division is allowing consumers to be connected on their request, including isolated areas. Once prepaid meter is installed, the division will see to it that power interruptions would be minimised, he said.

“There were reports of resistance from some of the identified consumers. Most probably, because they have been paying minimum or less than what they are actually supposed to pay and they know very well that once pre paid (meter) is installed, they’ll have to pay the exact amount consumed. 

“About 6800 (prepaid meters) have already been installed and above 1500 were commissioned and ongoing. After installing, we are going for commissioning (consumer is relieved of the post paid billing system) one by one. Installations would be done within no time but commissioning is going at a slow pace because of manpower shortage,” he informed when asked about the expected time of completion. 

According to the engineer, the advantage of prepaid metering system is that any discrepancies in the bill, which consumers may find in the present case, won’t be there.

Will it act as a panacea to revenue gap?

‘Power Reforms’ was one of the urgent matters of discussion in the recent state assembly session held in February. Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio informed that the state buys 90% of power from outside the state as its own electricity generation plants contribute to only 10% of power consumption.

Suohu informed: “We spend about INR 360 crore to purchase power and we got only about INR 160 crore last year.”

The prepaid metering system, he said, is part of the solution to fulfill the revenue gap but it is not the only solution.

“We can’t attribute these losses to prepaid. Unless we have a good vigilance team, even if we put the best of the meter, pilferage is bound to happen. Whenever there is pilferage, definitely, there is a leakage of income,” the engineer said.

‘Currently there is about 60% loss but with prepaid metering system in place, the losses are expected to come down to about 30%. However, about 30% still stands to lose. There are areas where we have to improve,’ he pointed out.

 As for the payment mode, only offline is available for now. There are two outlets — Jail colony and sub-division office — for recharge. Later, if the prepaid metering system escalates, it may have to open some more outlets for recharge, he informed.  

Talking about the challenges, he pointed out that synchronisation of teamwork was one of the major factors, where work timings become mismatched.

More pre-paid meters means re-assignment of works

With the introduction of pre-paid meters, the normal job for bill readers and assistants would become redundant. Their workload would be lessened as more commissioning of prepaid meters takes place, the engineer said.

He added that once this happens, he would be compelled to “re-assign” his staff for vigilance work.

He informed that there are around 34,000 consumers of power within the Kohima municipal area.

“Comparatively, Kohima netizens are much better than other areas when it comes to sincerity in payment of utility bills. Though there are cases of power theft and pilferage, it is countable,” he said.

As far as the quantum of money coming in every month is concerned, the division is able to collect on an average INR 2 crore to INR 2.5 crore, he said. However, he added that receiving and collection of the amount from the consumers fluctuates. 

Prepaid system: A more transparent approach

A prepaid power consumer said that the new system was transparent and users cannot lie about their utility bills.

In post-paid metering system, pilferage and power theft are common but that is not possible now, as consumers have to pay the exact amount they consume.

People have become aware of energy saving and there is no room for carelessness. They have started having the sense of responsibility to switch off lights when not in use. Thus, there is awareness on the need to use energy in a judicious manner, as there is no shortcut to payment, it was informed. 

With the new billing system in place, consumers have to pay the bill themselves without the bill distributors at their doorstep, said a consumer, adding that it also would mean that someone would be rendered jobless.

‘No online payment disadvantage’

Another consumer, who has been using prepaid meter system for some time now, shared that one disadvantage of this billing method is lack of online payment option.

“However, the good thing is that if there is an auto cut-off when it goes down to minus, INR 100 emergency can be recharged from the meter itself. Further, one cannot be careless with using power at home,” the consumer said.

“On the other hand, if the rate shoots up which mostly happen with power line, there should be some sort of mechanism to adjust it because an average income consumer cannot pay huge amounts on a monthly basis,” the person added.

Particularly during winter season in Kohima, when consumers use power line energy such as rice cooker, water boiler, and heater all at once, bill exceeds INR 2000 per month, he added.

Meanwhile, many people have benefitted from using post-paid as the bill is INR 500 per month on an average. 

The consumer also suggested the prepaid billing system not be used in rural areas as communitisation was benefiting both the people and government in those places.

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By Reyivolü Rhakho Updated: Apr 20, 2021 11:02:33 pm