• Power regulator disapproves of premium on urgent connections
• Hints at allowing 14pc interest on bill instalments

ISLAMABAD: The power regulator Nepra on Tuesday rejected objections raised by the power division over its overbilling investigation report finding massive irregularities to consumers and made it clear to take the regulatory process to the logical conclusion.

The National Electric Power Regulatory Authority also appeared unconvinced by the power division’s move to charge Rs15,000 to Rs30,000 for urgent power connections but hinted at allowing 14 per cent interest to consumers seeking instalments for their bills as various consumer groups from across the country.

Nepra members believed the only thing the consumers expected from the government and its entities at this stage was facilitations and improved services, for which they were already paying a heavy price at the expense of their livelihood.

The observations came on Tue­s­day during two separate public hearings conducted by a panel led by Nepra Chairman Waseem Mukhtar and comprising four provincial members, Muthar Rana, Maqsood Anwar Khan, Rafique A. Shaikh and Amina Ahmed. It would come up with decisions later.

During the course of two hearings, Nepra’s technical member, Mr Shaikh, made it clear that the power regulator fully owned the investigation report of an inquiry committee that comprised competent experts with strong professional and regulatory credentials.

“We have complete confidence in the committee and own its report,” he said, adding that the regulator would complete its regulatory process once a formal response on the investigation report was available.

He recalled that in a similar episode in 2020, there were reports about overbilling to the extent of 52 days for holidays, weekends and so on, which had been established after a long-drawn regulatory process, and the overbilled amounts had to be refunded to the consumers.

In the same decision, he said, the regulator had declared that the billing cycle could be less than 30 days, but it could not go beyond 30 days.

He said that even in the current case, the issue cropped up in 2022 and a sampling process revealed 90pc overbilling. This, he said, was not challenged by any of the chief executives of any power distribution company (Disco) during cross-examination, except the Karachi-based power utility K-Electric.

But it was decided by the regulator that investigation should be based on actual data, rather than sampling. Therefore, the data was obtained from Discos and the Power Information Technology Company (PITC), which was also a subsidiary of the power division, based on which the report was finalised after hearing the viewpoint of the CEOs of Discos.

He said the regulatory process may appear long but would take its course and would be completed after a response from the other side. The power division and the Discos under its control had raised certain objections and claimed that meter reading beyond 30 days was not an unusual practice.

Pending connection applications

Meanwhile, consumers and Nepra members criticised the Power Planning and Managing Company (PPMC) — another subsidiary of the power division — for coming up with petitions without completing homework and background studies and data when it proposed an urgent fee for new connections, separate meters in case of direct separate entrances to the house from the main road, enhancing detection bills for theft or meter tampering, etc.

Nepra deplored that more than 208,720 applications were pending beyond 30 days against various Discos for new connections, but they were seeking an urgent fee to set up a connection in three days.

It was observed that under the existing rules, new connections should be ensured within 30 days of application, but some applications were filed more than a year ago.

Nepra members believed that power distribution companies should improve their service and ensure normal connections within 30 days and rather earlier to increase demand and consumption while surplus capacity was available.

The authority put on record that 119,000 applications for new connections were pending for more than 30 days, 55,600 for more than two months, 31,600 for more than three months, 1,485 for more than six months and the remaining were pending for a year or above.

Talking about the current state of affairs at the power companies, Mr Shaikh of Nepra said power companies had lost the trust of consumers at large and observed that the companies would not be able to survive beyond a few months unless upfront structural changes were made, including privatisation, public-private partnership, etc.

Mr Shaikh, however, brushed aside objections over markup on instalments of bills, saying power companies also had to make payments regularly and, in case of borrowing, had to bear additional financing costs. Therefore, it was logical for them to be compensated for the funds they did not receive from their customers on time, he said.

Published in Dawn, December 20th, 2023

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