The long-awaited installation of smart electricity meter boxes in the Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality (EMLM) is set to kick-start in June this year, following the auditing of the existing ones to determine how many will be replaced.
EMLM mayor Luleka Gubula revealed during a press briefing on Tuesday the local authority was losing an estimated R433m annually to electricity theft, which she said was detrimental to the institution’s revenue collection prospects.
“This revenue loss due to power theft also contributes immensely to our ballooning Eskom bill of more that R500m. We want to accelerate the smart meter project because it will help us in our financial recovery plan objectives,” she said.
The municipality will start by auditing the existing meter boxes in the first week of April and this exercise will be done in phases, starting with large power consumers like businesses.
The second phase will focus on households and the mayor indicated she needed to assure people that public participation would precede the auditing process and councillors would also be involved.
“Meter boxes that have been tampered with, faulty and incompatible ones will be replaced and the new system will start in June which is when we expect the auditing process to be concluded. Meter boxes that function optimally will not be replaced,” said Gubula.
The mayor indicated that areas like Ezibeleni where some people used electricity carelessly and were prone to regular power outages would see an improved difference when the smart meters have been installed.
Gubula said the municipal electricity systems in the area were overloaded due to electricity theft that resulted to the blowing-up of transformers.
The benefits of the installation of smart meters included the elimination of manual monthly meter readings, the improvement of the municipal billing system as a result of accurate meter readings and the improvement of customer awareness of their energy consumption.
The smart meters will assist the municipality to monitor customer energy consumption in real time and remotely, they will reportedly encourage a more efficient use of electricity resources so that electricity is saved and will provide responsive data for balancing electricity loads.
The newly-appointed EMLM chief financial officer, Paul Mahlasela, indicated that during the public participation process they would have forms for those eligible to be included in the indigent register.
“This will help us in our data cleansing exercise so we may properly update our financial systems and indigent register.
“Large electricity users carry about 80% of our revenue generation, so we want to focus on them and remove all meters that have been bypassed or are faulty.”
Asked whether people and businesses found to have tampered with meters would be required to make payments for electricity theft; he said the aim was not to put people and the municipality at a disadvantage.
“This will be answered after analysis, when we have concluded the public participation. We want our customers and the municipality to benefit from this so before taking any drastic measures. We would have to exhaust all means to ensure people come forward to pay what is due to the municipality,” said Mahlasela.