A couple of months ago, two technicians of the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) arrived at Teshie Tsuibleoo in Accra to execute their job for the day, not knowing what was in store for them.
The two men, assigned to replace pre-paid meters with new split meters in some houses, were accosted by angry residents who tried to stop them from fixing the meters.
The reason: The residents had heard from others in the neighbourhood that the new split meters being introduced in the community increased the cost of electricity and they were determined to reject it.
The meter project
The meter replacement is a pilot project of the ECG under which the old pre-paid meters introduced about 15 years ago are being replaced with a new Split Metering System (SMAT).
The project, which began mid last year, was carried out in Teshie in Accra, including Tsuibleoo, Agblazah, the Spintex Road area and the Regimanuel Estates.
Thereafter, it was introduced in the Bortianor area, comprising Weija, Bortianor, Gbawe, Mallam and surrounding areas; MaCharthy Hill, Awoshie, Anyaa, Ablekuma and then it moved to Achimota District. The World Bank is also supporting a similar project in Kumasi.
Residents in some of the pilot areas in Accra are fiercely resisting the installation of the meters in their homes. They claim that after the installation of the meters, their electric bills had increased significantly.
Mr Maxwell Sowah, a resident of Teshie Tsuibleoo, said their expenditure on electricity had drastically increased.
'Our electric bill of GH¢24 a month has risen to GH¢100 since we started using the split metering system. It is really a big drain on our finances and many of our neighbours are also complaining.'
Another resident, Mr Emmnuel Addo, said his household's electricity bill had doubled. 'Previously, we paid GH¢25 for a month's supply of power. Now, we pay GH¢50,' he said.
Aside the increase in power, he said the system was also not very convenient to use and explained that the meters had been placed on poles that were very far from the consumers' homes, and that posed many problems.
Most consumers find it difficult to go out of their homes to reload the meters on the electric poles when their power runs out in the middle of the night.
Mr Addo cited an instance when his household had to sleep in darkness because everyone felt it was not safe to go out when their power went out at midnight.
They also contended that placing the meters on the poles makes it very easy for robbers to easily identify houses they intend to rob and cut of their power to make it easy for them to carry out their activities.
He added that following complaints about the long distances between the poles and the house, the ECG provided some households with a device to enable them to load the power they buy in their home.
'The device is not user-friendly, and besides, sometimes, soon after buying the power, it loads on the system even if the device has not been used, making it difficult for consumers to determine the amount of power that has been loaded,' said Mr Addo.
Notwithstanding the numerous complaints, the ECG is convinced that the split metering system is an effective means for the company to optimise their network to reduce system loses.
Mr Daniel Azu, Divisional Manager (Regulatory & Governmental Affairs) of ECG, told the Daily Graphic that the main thrust of the project was to prevent theft of electricity and for 'us to be able to account properly for the energy we sell.'
He stressed that the complaints of tariff increase could not be true, since the ECG had not changed its tariff structure.
'House-to-house checks conducted by the Loss Control Unit of ECG over the years unveiled tampering of meters by consumers who bypass some gadgets to reduce consumption,' he said.
He added that the ECG faced the challenge of penalising the offenders because people denied knowledge of the tampering and many claimed they did not know when it was done and who did it.
'As such, when we detect cases of tampering, we do not know who to penalise, so we said, 'let's take the meter out of the reach of customers and make it difficult for them to bypass some of their gadgets from the meters,' Mr Azu indicated.
He claimed that since the pilot projects started, ECG had reduced system loss from 19.5 per cent to 25 per cent and the failure rate of the meter had been low.
This trend, if sustained, will help the company to generate more money, and then the demand on the public to pay more for power will reduce.
Mr Azu explained further that the new meters use a communications system and load automatically. They are also technologically improved and weather-proof so they are able to withstand the weather changes.
The project is being executed by Benjeng Xianxeng Company (BXC), a local company with its parent in China. The contractor, Mr Azu indicated, was investing $70 million in the project and that would be paid back by the ECG over a 10-year period.
Mr Azu further stated that for factories and industries, the ECG was introducing an automated meter reading system that enabled the company to monitor the reading at the factory.
'With this system, we can immediately detect tampering and follow up,' he indicated.
He said the company introduced the system in the first quarter of last year and already it was yielding a lot of savings for the company.
'The system affords us a good auditing process on transformers that feed customers and we are able to detect stealing,' he added.
By Rosemary Ardayfio / Daily Graphic / Ghana