Black-listed power consumers finding refuge in universal supply service

Thousands of black-listed electricity consumers no longer able to find a supplier as a result of poor payment records at previous companies are finding refuge through a universal supply service that was introduced in 2011 to cover the power needs of sidelined household and small businesses requiring capacities of up to 25 kVA.

Consumers no longer making the grade for supplier representation are legally entitled to apply for supply through this universal service, offering tariffs at elevated rates. RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, most recently revised this rate to be 12 percent higher than tariffs offered by the power utility PPC.

The supplier covering this universal service’s electricity needs is theoretically chosen through a competitive procedure. However, all independent suppliers have shunned the process. As a result, the service must, by law, be provided by the dominant player – PPC, at present.

A draft bill prepared by the energy ministry and set to be presented for public consultation will include terms obligating the country’s three biggest independent suppliers to share this universal service responsibility if bidders refuse to show up for the competitive procedure, the ministry has noted.

Some 110,000 household consumers and small-scale businesses are estimated to be utilizing the universal service at present. PPC has been hardest hit in terms of the number of customers with arrears that have managed to flee.

A series of electricity market distortions have turned this service into a hideout for electricity consumers with poor payment records. These include consumers rated as able, even affluent, but unwilling to cover their electricity bill obligations. No time limits are imposed meaning the service can be enjoyed indefinitely.

According to PPC officials, the utility is identifying older debt-ridden customers of its own now using the universal service but cannot push for settlement of older debt as the service is regarded as a different entity by law.