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PM Hinds “uneasy” about high-tech electricity meters

GPL technicians installing the high-tech meters in a section of Georgetown’s business district

Prime Minister Samuel Hinds has expressed scepticism about a proposed US$75 million re-metering programme aimed at reducing electricity theft, saying that the high-tech system is not fool-proof.

Making a presentation to the parliamentary sectoral committee on energy, he noted that in other countries like the Dominican Republic thieves have been able to hack and manipulate the supposed anti-theft meters using television remotes and other wireless devices.

“I have been becoming a little bit uneasy because…. places like the Dominican Republic, they have taken this thing to a fine art. Their intent to defeat the system or to get a round it, they have taken it to a fine art,” he said.

The state-owned Guyana Power and Light Incorporated (GPL) has already embarked on a US$5 million pilot re-metering project in a section of commercial Georgetown that allows the power company to disconnect and re-connect supply from inside the power station rather than on the poles. GPL can also monitor usage patterns and detect efforts at tampering.

Prime Minister Hinds’ uncertainty about expanding the re-metering programme came against the background of GPL’s Chief Executive Officer, Bharat Dindial telling the sectoral committee that electricity thieves in the Dominican Republic have been using a range of remote control devices to hack the system in that Spanish-speaking nation and bypass high-tech meters.

“In the Dominican Republic, the methods used to steal electricity are far more sophisticated in that people can activate and deactivate the meter using a television remote, garage opener and a whole range of remote devices,” he said.

Hinds, who has ministerial responsibility for electricity and energy, stressed the need to make electricity theft “extremely difficult” especially among those who brag that they steal because larger consumers were doing so. ““It gives you bragging rights and I hope that we can get behind giving bragging rights to people who get by without paying for electricity,” he said.

Latest statistics revealed by the Prime Minister to the sectoral committee showed that about 3,000 large customers were stealing half of the amount attributed to theft and the remainder by 176,000 domestic customers. Hinds said the 31 percent losses are almost evenly split between technical (transmission and distribution) and commercial (theft).

Although technical and commercial losses have been slashed from 45 percent over the past 10 years, Hinds said he remained embarrassed among his colleague Caribbean Community (Caricom) ministers responsible for electricity. On the specific issue of electricity theft, he said “commercial losses are a reflection of the integrity of a people.”

GPL Inc; he said, has a target of 19.5%, to which total losses should be reduced by 2018.  “I want us to set our eyes on doing better:  equaling, or doing better than, Barbados – no more than 7%.  This is not unrealistic, for even now there are areas which are down to 11%.  We can be, materially, a third-world country, but attaining first-world levels in electricity losses!”, he said.

The estimates of total losses range from the ‘high end’ of 60% across South Georgetown; about 40% along the East Coast of Demerara, Sophia to Mahaica;  and North Wakenaam, about 37%. South Georgetown is a large area, with a large number of customers and a large load. No doubt, technical losses could be a little larger than elsewhere, and there would be sub-areas with losses greater than 60%, as well as lower than 60%. There is an obvious need to split the feeder.  Indeed, all feeders in the Demerara area will be split when the Transmission Upgrade programme is completed. At the ‘lower end’ of total losses, we are heartened by the estimates of 17.2% for Kitty/Campbelville; 18.4% for Ruimveldt Industrial Site and environs;  21% for Water Street; and, most of all, 14.0% for downtown, from Robb Street to Croal and Smyth Streets, between Alexander and Wellington Streets; 11.2% for Garden of Eden to Nandy Park; 11.8%, Edinburgh to Windsor Forest, and 9.8%, Vreed-en-Hoop to Windsor Forest. These low figures need to be checked, in order to ensure that they are not erroneously low.

Odinga Lumumba, who represents the governing Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) on the sectoral committee, urged authorities to prosecute both large and small electricity thieves even-handedly. “We have to make an example of all classes of people-small and large,” he said. Hinds assured that authorities were going after both large and small thieves in different ways.

Alliance For Change (AFC) committee member, Trevor Williams pledged his party’s unconditional support to go after those who steal electricity. ‘

GPL’s Loss Reduction Department consists of 72 persons. The Prime Minister said about five percent of electricity theft is done with the involvement of past and current staff members of the power company.