Electricity theft cases in Greece increased by 26 percent last year, a development that takes the overall increase over the past two years to an astonishing 60 percent.
Further highlighting the troubled situation amid the prolonged recession, employees at HEDNO, the Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator, have faced a heightened level of aggression when doing rounds to inspect suspicious supply connections.
Inspections conducted last year identified 10,600 cases of electricity theft, up from 8.409 in 2015 and 6,605 in 2014, latest HEDNO data showed.
In comments offered to energypress, HEDNO officials admitted that these figures are just an estimate and would probably rise if a greater number of inspections were carried out.
The HEDNO figures highlight the need for RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, to toughen penalties for offenders. The authority is soon expected to announce stricter regulations. Immediate supply cuts will be activated in cases of electricity theft, according to these new RAE rules. Also, offenders will need to settle overdue electricity bill amounts within 20 days or register for payback programs.
The installment of digital power meters around Greece, expected to replace conventional meters over the next few years, represents the most effective preventive measure against electricity theft as new-technology smart meters cannot be tampered with.
The lack of political will to tackle the problem has not helped matters. The recently appointed energy minister Giorgos Stathakis has so far maintained a tolerant policy supported by his predecessor Panos Skourletis and refused to cut electricity supply in cases where overdue electricity bill amounts do not exceed 1,000 euros.
Over 1.5 million clients owe the main power utility PPC electricity bill amounts of less than 1,000 euros. Just 14 percent of these clients registered for a softer payback program by the end of December, offered by the utility to help reduce its alarming level of unpaid receivables. Clients belonging to this category have been content to maintain their electricity bill debt at levels below 1,000 euros.