Despite a regulation capping the limit to which distribution companies (DisCos) can charge electricity consumers who are not metered, over billing in the form of estimated billing has continued.
Specifically, the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), in February issued an order capping estimated billings in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI).
This was to protect unmetered R2 (Residential single and 3 phase meters, who consume more than 50kwh per month) and C1 (commercial single and three-phase meters) customers from arbitrary billing.
But DisCos have continued to flaunt the order without commensurate action from the regulators. This puts consumers at the mercy of DisCos.
Electricity services have remained abysmal with latest data showing that the number of complaints received by electricity distribution companies in the country from consumers rose to 204,506 in the first quarter.
NERC data showed that the complaints received by the 11 DisCos in Q1 2020 increased by 15.02 per cent from the 177,807 received during the fourth quarter of 2019.
“In total, the DisCos attended to 188,749 complaints, representing an increase of 1.84 percentage points from the preceding quarter,” it said.
According to the report, the complaints centered on service interruption, poor voltage, load shedding, metering, estimated billing, disconnection and delayed connection.
It said metering and billing accounted for 42.96 per cent (87,854) of the total complaints received during the first quarter of 2020 as against 50.49 per cent (89,782) recorded in the preceding quarter.
Meanwhile, consumers who are under the estimated billing have described the recent electricity bills issued to them as criminal.
Many of them lamented that the August and September billings were contrary to the NERC order. The consumers were particularly appalled by August-September bills from Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKEDC).
In a bill sent to Mrs. Clara Nwachukwu, a resident of Magodo, and seen by The Guardian, her electricity consumption was put at 2,499.00 and current charges at N132, 252.70.
Also, a consumer, Chika Izuora, who lives in a three-bedroom apartment in Maryland, complained that the bill he got from IKEDC for September was N83, 000.
He said: “I paid for pre pre-paid meter over a month ago. I stay in a three-bedroom apartment and have done petitions over inflated bills, and the marketer admitted in an endorsed bill that I am being over billed. It has been a long crisis. My bill was in the region of N8, 000, and then it started a gradual increase.
The outrageous bill escalated to N18, 000 and N20, 000. I did a petition and a team came to check my load, it was reviewed. In August, I got N34, 000 and I screamed. In September, it raised to N83, 000.
“I am taking the company to court; I have assembled all my documents. Keeping mum will help the impunity to continue. My neighbours with pre-paid meters during the period in question recharged N10, 000. Why is mine N83, 000. I don’t operate a factory; I don’t even use an air conditioner.”
Also, Toyin Apariola, who resides in Mafoluku-Oshodi, lamented that consumers in the axis who are under the estimated billing platform are criminally overbilled. According to him, he was billed N20, 000 in June, N30, 000 in July, N40, 000 in August and N50, 000 in September.
“The recent bills sent to each house in my area are based on the new tariff, which the government suspended. Ikeja Electricity would send our bill to us via SMS and the following day they would come around to disconnect. People are left with no choice but to bribe them. We are being extorted and this is heart-breaking. All efforts to get prepaid meters have failed.”
NERC capping was to protect unmetered customers and provide sufficient incentives for the DisCos to quickly meter such customers.
The context of a proposed new regulation is in the realisation that DisCos are not doing enough to meter customers.
Since the takeover of distribution by private players on November 1, 2013, there has not been aggressive metering as promised by the operators. This led to estimated billing of customers, who have complained of paying for services not rendered.
The capping released by NERC in February 2020 stopped DisCos from billing an estimated customer more than 60 kilowatts monthly, which is not adhered to.
The NERC order, among other things, also stated that DisCos are to ensure all tariff class A1 customers (customers using grid-connected premises for agriculture, schools, water boards, religious houses, government, teaching hospitals and others that require single or 3 phase meters) are properly identified and metered by April 30, 2020.
It was also directed in the Order any customer whose current estimated bill is below the capped price should remain so without upward review until the installation of a meter; and any customer who rejects the installation of a meter must be disconnected by the Disco.
Schedule 1 of the order makes clear provisions for area/business unit-specific billings per kWh for R1 and C1 customers. For example, in Abuja, whereas Kubwa is billed 114kWh for R2 and 120kWh for C1, Maitama is billed 432kWh for R2 and 548kWh for C1.
In Lagos, whereas Apapa is billed 376kWh for R2T and 300kWh for C1S, Island is billed 774kWh for R2T and 648kWh for C1T. Jigawa North is billed 61kWh for R2A and 60kWh for C1A while Kano Central is billed 83kWh for R2A and 86kWh for C1A.