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Tologata issues meter tampering warning

The General Manager of the Electric Power Corporation (E.P.C.), Tologata Tile Tuimaleali'ifano, has warned members of the public that people who tamper with electricity meters face a fine of more than $1,000.

The warning comes as the corporation rolls out the smart meter technology, estimated to cost E.P.C. US$1.6 million (T$4.1 million) and take three years to roll out.

A smart meter is an electronic device that records consumption of electric energy and communicates the information to the electricity supplier for monitoring and billing.

According to Tologata, household consumers caught will have to pay the loss of revenue to E.P.C. and an additional $1,000 fee for electricity re-connection. Businesses will be fined with $3,000 for re-connection and the loss of revenue.

“We have started installing the meters [for household consumers] at Vaitele, Nuu, and Falelauniu but we have installed around 300 smart meters within businesses,” he added.

All E.P.C. consumers are required to have a smart meter, he added.

One of the problems faced by the Corporation was through its employed meter readers.

“The first problem with the meter readers is that sometimes when they become lazy to go to a consumer’s house they will just sit in the car and write the electricity bill of the family with any numbers they can come up with," he said.

“Sometimes a family will be lucky that they will have a small bill to pay while others will be charged with a large fee and that has led to many consumers complaining.”

He added that they started laying off meter readers during the time when they started the cash power system. 

However, Tologata stressed that instead of letting the employees go; they used them to work at other areas. 

“These errors will contribute to the system loss we are trying to address. Our definition of a system loss is the amount of electricity produced by us through the generators compared to the sales at the end of the month.

“So it’s the difference between the electricity produced and sold compared the sales we get.

“And also that cost [salaries for meter readers] will be cut off because we will not be paying people in this field.”

The General Manager of E.P.C. also mentioned that the smart meters has a function that can remotely read the electricity used by its consumers from their offices.

The meters will also address the problem of collecting of every user at once.

“At the moment, that was one of the problems we also faced in working out the system loss. It is because we could not read 35,000 meters belonging to the consumers.

“But we usually conduct the meter reading from the beginning to the end of every month because it is not possible to do it in a day and plus they cover different areas.”

Smart meters can collect all the data that each consumer has at a certain time all at once.

This will indicate how much electricity is lost, and then the E.P.C. management will discuss and find ways to address the loss, added Tologata.

“We also deal with problems such as meter tampering and that is also another system loss. There have been many cases of people tampering with the electricity meters and abnormal electricity consumption.

“The majority of times families pretend they do not know how their meters were bypassed but it are illegal to steal electricity.”

Electricians caught tampering with E.P.C. consumer meters will have their license removed permanently. 

“We try and find out if a licensed electrician has done the work but sometimes it is people who can wire the electricity but have no license that either convinces the families to give them money while they bypass their meters and make their electricity bill less costly.

“Families will face being permanently disconnected from electricity supply when caught and we will remove the whole wire and meter.”

Another advantage of the meters, it can monitor the quality of electricity in reference to the voltage which is important for consumer’s homes because it indicates the amount of electricity that is supplied.

“You can access the information of your meter from your phone because others have complained about the low voltage meaning the electricity supply is weak during the time of maximum demand which means everyone is using electricity especially during the evenings.

“That will help consumers call our offices and complain about the quality of electricity that should be used supplied.

“After installing the smart meters if any problems like the low quality of electricity it automatically flags here at the offices and instead of us waiting for the consumers to complain but we will be more proactive in addressing the issue.”

He also added that their Corporation is looking forward to this technology because with the accuracy of the data collected it can assist the analysis of the consumers.

“The analysis will be used to make necessary tariffs for a variety of consumers.

“An example is that, there is a plan that we are considering the introduction of electrical vehicles and these vehicles are charged using electricity, so with the assistance of smart meters to draw up proposed tariffs specifically for that purpose.”

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