A number of City Power customers don't pay for electricity

'Nonpayers partly responsible for load reduction'

Koena Mashale Journalist
Illegally connected electrical cables hang over the shacks at Chicken Farm in Soweto
Illegally connected electrical cables hang over the shacks at Chicken Farm in Soweto

Alexandra, Mountain View, Tshepisong, River Park, Pennyville and Vlakfontein.

These are some of the areas top of the list in Johannesburg which City Power has identified for having a huge number of customers who do not pay for electricity but have high levels of consumption, putting pressure on the grid.

The utility has revealed that no-one pays for electricity in Alexandra's Extension 51, north of Joburg. The power utility said payment rates in at least 12 areas which are top of the list ranges between 1% and an average 8%.

City Power is now implementing load reduction across the metro due to its substations being overloaded.

The power utility's systems controller, Sipho Gamede, said it has a system that checks the collection rate.

“If you look at Alex, the payment rate sits at about 8%. That tells you that many of these customers are either bypassing their meters or they are not paying at all even when they get their bills to go and pay and they put a lot of pressure on the system,” said Gamede.

City Power spokesperson Isaac Mangena said nonpayers were cut off the system but somehow bypass it. “Customers who don’t pay like the majority in Alex overload the system. Some of the nonpayers are people who use conventional meters and fall behind with their bill and hope that we won't knock on their door for collection. The nonpayment compounded by illegal connections also contributes to load reduction,” said Mangena.

“We are always sitting with high calls from Alex and technicians fix cables but there are no payments coming in and often it’s expensive to fix those wires or cables,” said Mangena.

Gamede said what residents are experiencing may feel like rolling blackouts but it is load reduction.

City Power on Monday implemented load reduction from 6am until 10am and again between 4pm until 10pm.

This, the utility said, is informed by monitoring consumption data from substations and those with higher consumption are switched off temporarily during peak hours. 

“Eskom declares load-shedding when demand exceeds generation capacity... Municipalities can implement load reduction where there is some strain on their network.

“In order for us to avoid damages and explosions, we needed to reduce the load. It’s localised switching of of some substations,” said Gamede.

He said one of other ways the utility reduces power consumption is by switching off geysers. “In affluent areas, we have ripple controls of switching off geysers. We can monitor consumptions and we can switch geysers off when the consumption is high. 

“In areas like Alex and Freedom Park, we don’t have such facilities. In all those areas in which we identified which are on the list of load reduction, unfortunately we don’t have smart meters that would be able to control and we don’t have ripple controls for the geysers as well,” said Gamede.

Mangena said the utility had started a smart meter rollout project which has helped.

“For a long time, the payment rate in Alexandra stood at 4% and last year, after the rollout of smart meters, there has been some improvement of up to 8%. An area like Mayibuye (in Midrand) was not paying at all until we installed these meters in October last year and by December we collected R3m from that area,” said Mangena.

Gamede said the utility was engaging with residents of Vlakfontein, south of Joburg, on the meters.

“We are still having engagements with councillors, telling them that the grid will collapse at some stage if they don’t allow us to normalise [these smart meters],” said Gamede.

“We went to Naturena and there was so much resistance because what we wanted to do was to go to each and every house to check if meters were not bypassed and look for customers who were not paying to cut them off. But there was so much resistance and we partly did it but we were stopped along the way.”

Gamede said on top of the systems it has, its technicians are constantly doing audits.

“We’ve got technicians doing audits in terms of identifying suburbs monthly, going to certain areas, going to each house, especially those not paying. In some cases, where possible, we cut off those customers and issue them with notices,” said Gamede. 

He said their teams often identify illegal connections from its networks. 


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