The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, on Wednesday directed electricity distribution companies, DISCOs, to come up with acceptable metering plans to check the high incidence of crazy bills to customers in their areas of operation.
The NERC Chairman, Sam Amadi, said at the end of the monthly meeting of the Chief Executive Officers, CEOs of the DISCOs in Abuja that the electricity companies have been ordered to desist from the practice of issuing estimated bills to customers.
Mr. Amadi, who made it clear that the DISCOs were responsible to meter consumers as part of their license, said the Commission expects to see a robust metering plan in place from the DISCOs before long.
The metering plan, he said, must take care of the interest of post-paid customers who have electricity meters that are not prepaid, and those without meters at all.
For the post-paid meter owners, the NERC chief said the plan must accommodate representatives of the DISCOs following the due process of physically visiting the consumers to read their meters, to avoid incorrect billing or over-estimation.
For consumers without electricity meters, he said NERC has provided a methodology that would require the DISCOs benchmarking the consumption by the metered consumers against the amount of electricity in the feeder to arrive at the appropriate estimated billing.
The NERC Chairman who lamented the growing incidence of electricity theft in the country, said the DISCOs have also been directed to aggressively monitor, apprehend and report every customer found to have tempered with the meters or steals electricity from the system.
"Anyone caught must be made to face the full rigour of the law as a criminal," he warned. "Culprits would not only be arrested, they would be subjected to civil sanctions, including prosecution in court and instant disconnection from the electricity supply network.
To reconnect such a person, the Chairman said he would be made to face serious punitive sanctions, including the payment of fines equivalent to about 50 times the value of the theft of power from the network.
Warning consumers to desist from stealing electricity, Mr. Amadi said the increasing theft of electricity would not only hurt the revenue generating capacity of the DISCOs, but ultimately the nation, which would be pushed further into darkness.
He said the DISCOs have been empowered to drastically deal with customers who either by-pass their meters or illegally connect to the electricity supply network.
.On gas supply, the NERC Chairman said the meeting had reviewed a new technology-based gas solution recommended to the DISCOs as a viable alternative that would save them the headache of incessant shortage of gas.
The solution, he said involved the use of compressed natural gas, which has the additional attraction of saving the operators the challenge posed by pipeline vandalism and associated risks.
"Innovation in gas technology would help both those who are already connected to the gas supply network and the new embedded generators who want to supply quick power to their captive areas," he stated.
He said the Generation Companies, GENCOS, have been advised to consider working with the owners of the technology to ensure that more gas resources become available for power generation.
"Gas supply has been a major problem that has limited electricity generation capacity in the industry. Most of the power plants that are gas-based are not producing at normal capacity as a result of lack of adequate gas supply," Mr. Amadi said.
On efforts to resolve the gas supply crisis, he said the Federal Government was doing a lot to improve gas supply by processing more gas or taking some gas allocations from export and domestic market and fast-tracking work on the development of gas infrastructure.
He said NERC, on its part, is creating a proper commercial framework for gas by ensuring that the tariff and contracts the GENCOs have on gas were bankable and attractive, to boost revenue collection and capacity to pay for gas.
NERC, he said, is now focusing efforts on helping the DISCOs procure embedded power generation as part of the strategy to ensure adequate supply of electricity in the country.
On the pending amendment to the interim rules to help increase the liquidity in the industry prior to the take-off of the international electricity market regime, Mr. Amadi said consultations were finalized during the meeting.
He said the approved interim market rule, which is expected to come into effect latest after the Easter holidays, would raise the bar on the threshold on remittance of funds to the market.