LINE LOSS - IS IT A DISTRIBUTION FAULT?

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI (tariqsaeedi@hotmail.com)
July 13 - 19, 2009

Naveed Ismail, Managing Director Karachi Electric Supply Company has requested the government to declare power theft non-bailable offence-an untenable plea sounds a final pray from a private management that through this appeal has passed buck to the other side. Untenable it is because genuine consumers are already paying more than they consume while consumption time is shrinking day by day and as such, there is surely an absence of mechanism to discern legal and illegal usage. Though it is conspicuous, administrative cronyism would save the skin of main culprits on enforcement and again sufferer would be a minor offender.

Curbing the underlying crime is entirely a matter of improved infrastructure, and it comes under commitments to deliver good performance. Surely, controllable supply would automatically reduce instances of non-payment of electricity bills and power pilferage. Line losses are not confined to Karachi alone rather they become a common menace faced by all distributions companies nationwide. Nevertheless, it is said that volume of line losses in the city is relatively huge; sometimes it reaches beyond 40 percent. There are some other reasons of line losses besides power theft, which is however, a prime cause.

Line loss is recorded when original supply reduces in size upon reaching at the reception. Technical faults make differential of total units delivered and total units received. But, there are some by-default line losses, which can not be controlled, according to an electricity expert. For example, when the electricity is transmitted in to feeders, its outrun is not equal in capacity during distribution due to processing loss. However, this loss is not substantial. Actually, real cost inflating loss is caused by power thefts, which can be controlled by rooting out its root causes. Among them is lack of proper electricity distribution infrastructure and failed metering system.

Unsealed metal wire carrying electricity makes it easy for stealer to siphon off electricity. Some scattered urban settlements have been installed with underground wires, but still most of the areas have pole-to-pole electricity supply network, promoting kunda (hook) attempts. It is worthwhile to mention an estimate, which says that KESC has detected 60 to 65,000 power theft cases so far. It is useless to add that this number is just a modicum of an aggregation. The supplier needs to launch a widespread campaign in residential as well as commercial and industrial areas to reach at a real number. Be that as it may, it has to draw up an investment plan to transform the supply system if it seriously wants to control line losses.

Although, PEPCO supported campaigns were started many a time to change the metering system, failure of which was considered a real cause of power theft, and thereby electricity meters were replaced more than twice in Karachi and Hyderabad, the mantra of power theft has not vanished. In fact, new meter doubled monthly electricity bills. It seems an abysmally common practice of bills makers in all over the country that they charge unjustified levies over electricity consumption. Perhaps average bill has become a remedial of line losses. To some an extent government would sustain fiscal downside by giving subsidies to pubic, yet private company could not be driven by philanthropic thrusts. It wants solid internal rate of returns. Especially, in a city like Karachi where power shortfall is rising as rapidly as its undocumented disappearances, the supplier ought to make some arrangements to run the company's affairs. Wapda is facing 33 to 35 percent line losses in Sindh, Quetta, and Peshawar. KESC's own line losses are not below that. However, critics say that city's electric supplier cum power producer compensates its losses by equalizing it on tariffs. Overbilling is cited as an evidence of compensatory measure adopted by the company.

While increase in input costs is forwarded as a justification to revise upward tariffs, downward revision has not occurred in proportion to decrease in prices of oil, which generates currently 45 percent of electric energy. While such price differential must have earned state owned enterprises and sole private management of the power company in the country sizeable profits, little amounts have been invested so far to reinvigorate supply line and nothing to set up new plant. Therefore, current wave of power crisis again turned government's attention towards rental power plants to meet the shortage. It would be no surprise if electricity supply in Karachi were to deflect national energy crisis, since independent authority is handling it. In contrast, the shortage of electricity in Karachi is identically reflective of nation's for "the company has not added a single unit in last three years", observed Sub-Committee of the Senate Standing Committee on Water and Power in a news report. It said that despite commitments the company had made during the privatization deal it made no investment in infrastructure building. While it has a plan to make investment of $365 million for next three years, what happened in last three years? It has been investing simply on routine overhauling of the system.

In a plea filed against performance of Karachi electric supply in Sindh High Court, it is revealed that the company is in blatant violation of Nepra's performance standards (distribution) rules, 2005. These violations are related to distributions and perpetrated also by other Wapda supervised Discos. According to these rules, applied objectively to all distribution companies, there must be no more than 60 unplanned power supply interruptions in a year; there must be no more than 88 hours of unplanned power supply interruptions in a year; and there must be no more than 16 planned power supply interruptions in a year. Sindh High Court has recently heard the constitutional petition filed by Law Foundation, Sindh High Court Bar Association, Helpline Trust, Shehri, and 13 others against National Electric Power Regulatory Authority and KESC.