Joburg complexes, businesses and prepaid electricity users are in deep trouble

 ·10 Jun 2024

The City of Joburg’s power utility, City Power, is coming after defaulting businesses and residential complexes, having cut off several of these properties in the past week for owing over R20.7 million in unpaid electricity bills.

The city said that the disconnections are part of an ongoing process to rake in debts owed, with it reaching unsustainable levels. The utility sits with around R10 billion in customer debt.

It is also part of an initiative to deal with what it calls “excessive electricity consumption”, with the grid under immense pressure.

City Power was forced to implement load rotation over the weekend and going forward as power consumption in the city of Joburg reached critical levels.

The city was forced to turn to “stringent measures” to prevent the grid from collapsing, including intensifying the implementation of ripple relay systems to cut electricity to geysers in homes where the systems are under threat, reducing load at substations with higher consumption and those under threat, and intensifying cut-off operations against illegal connections.

“While other measures such as ripple relay and cutoffs of illegal connections are currently underway to relieve the severe strain on our electricity network due to a massive increase in energy demand, City Power will implement load reduction starting Monday, 10 June,” it said.

Load reduction will be implemented during peak times from 06h00 to 10h00 and 16h00 to 22h00 in high density areas and suburbs with concerning usage levels that threaten to overload the electricity equipment.

“Load Limiting, through smart meters, will also be implemented in July to further assist customers in saving energy without switching them off completely,” City Power said.

The city said that it is going after customers in a big way. Its operation involves tracking and auditing customers whose supply remains on but is no longer vending, either due to bypassed meters or illegal connections.

The utility recently pointed out that thousands of affluent households and businesses with smart meters were engaging in this behaviour.

“From our observations, those who are illegally connected or tampered with meters, are amongst the highest consumers of electricity, because they do not experience the financial consequences of keeping high and irresponsible usage,” it said.

“Not only is this putting enormous strain on the already burdened network, but it’s also risking destroying electricity infrastructure such as transformers.”

During the winter period, City Power said it encounters a high number of cases of explosion of mini-substations and transformers, due to overloading that comes as a direct result of illegal connections.

This often leads to prolonged outages and further financial losses, as the entity has to buy equipment to replace those that have been damaged by non-paying customers.

The cut-off drive is being conducted under the Reuven Service Delivery Centre, which alone, is owed over R1.9 billion by defaulters.

“From our previous experiences with defaulting customers, the lack of funds does not appear to be among reasons why they consistently fail to pay for their bills, as most of them often make instant payments on the day of the cut-off,” it said.

“We are hoping that these operations, which are intensifying this winter season, will address the culture of non-payment and help alleviate the pressure on the grid.”

Read: ‘Rich’ South Africans busted for stealing electricity

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