How Power Discos Continue to Fail Consumers

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A review of six quarterly regulatory reports on activities in Nigeria’s electricity market has shown that electricity consumers still get the short end of the stick from their Discos, Chineme Okafor reports.

Six of the most recent quarterly reports on activities in Nigeria’s power sector which the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) published on its official webpage have exposed the repeated failures of the regulatory agency in making sure that the Discos deliver efficient electricity services to their customers.

The reports which covered the period between January 2018 and June 2019, explained that service interruptions, poor voltage, load shedding, inadequate metering, prevalent practices of estimated billing, disconnections and delayed connection of consumers back to supply networks were predominant features of the services the Discos rendered to their customers.

Apart from the poor services, the NERC’s report also indicated that the health and safety records of the Discos were abysmal, resulting in electricity-related deaths of 152 workers and consumers in the six quarters, as well as 54 injuries recorded by the Discos.

However, the reports showed that the NERC, the regulator of the market, repeatedly failed to take sufficient regulatory actions to address these failings. It also had series of unresolved complaints which customers lodged at its 30 forum offices located in 29 states of Nigeria.

Metering and Billing System
According to the NERC report, 52.80 per cent of the complaints lodged by consumers in the second quarter of 2019, were on metering and billing and 47 per cent in the last quarter of 2018.

“The metering of end-use customers has continued to be a priority of the Commission. Of the total of 8,881,443 registered active electricity customers, only 3,811,729 (42.92 per cent) have been metered indicating that 57.08 per cent of the end-use customers are still on estimated billing,” said the NERC report.

It added that in comparison to the first quarter of 2019, the numbers of registered and metered customers increased by 40,642 and 17,834, representing 0.46 per cent and 0.47 per cent increases respectively.

The NERC stated that the increase in the number of registered customers could be attributed to an on-going enumeration exercise by the Discos through which illegal consumers of electricity would be captured on their billing platforms.

With regards to the increase in metered customers, it explained that it, “is mainly attributed to the roll-out of meters under the Meter Asser Provider (MAP) scheme,” adding that while some Discos have just finalised their procurement processes for MAPs, few of them have actually started metering under the scheme.

Stating its concerns, but without actually taking measures to remedy the continued practice, the NERC said that, “the additional 17,834 end- use customers’ meters installed during the second quarter of 2019 are insufficient to achieving the goal of closing the metering gap,” in the market within three years.

Furthermore, it explained that, “The 11 Discos nationwide received a total of 145,959 complaints during the second quarter (of 2019), indicating 1,603 complaints per day compared to 1,688 complaints received daily in the preceding quarter.
“The Discos’ customer complaints centred on service interruption, poor voltage, load shedding, metering, estimated billing, disconnection, delayed connection, among others.”

“The number of complaints on metering and billing decreased significantly during the quarter under review but still dominates the customer complaints. Metering and billing accounted for 52.80 per cent (i.e., 77,063) of the total complaints received during the second quarter of 2019 as against 60.96 per cent (i.e., 92,626) recorded in the first quarter of 2019.

“This implies that, on average, 847 customers complained about metering and billing per day in the second quarter of 2019. Another issue of serious concern is service interruption, accounting for 9.86 per cent (i.e. 14,396) of the total customer complaints received during the quarter under review,” the NERC explained.

For the last quarter of 2018, the NERC said that although the number of complaints on metering and billing decreased, it still dominated the customers’ complaints.

“Metering and billing accounted for 47 per cent (i.e., 63,791) of the total complaints received during the quarter under review as against 53 per cent (i.e., 68,749) recorded in the third quarter of 2018.

“This implies that, on average, 693 customers complained about metering and billing per day in the fourth quarter of 2018. Another issue of serious concern is service interruption, accounting for 17.3 per cent (i.e. 23,603) of the total customer complaints received during the quarter under review,” it explained.

Poor Health and Safety Practice
Another salient failure of the commission and Discos in the six quarters was their inability to imbibe efficient health and safety practices, thereby resulting to many deaths and injuries of workers and third-party.
In its protests against this, the NERC also alleged that the Discos even put up some forms of resistance against compensating relatives of such casualties. In context, the regulator stated that approximately three persons died every week in the second quarter of 2019 from this.

It noted that: ‘The health and safety performance of the operators declines during the second quarter of 2019 as the number of deaths and injuries increased significantly from the preceding quarter.
“This implies that approximately three persons died of electrocution weekly in the second quarter of 2019.”
According to the report, 37 people died while 18 were injured in Q2-2019, while 10 deaths and seven injuries were recorded in Q1-2019.

Any efforts to address situation?
Somewhat throwing its hands in the air, the regulator said in the report that it has set up regulatory mechanisms to address the situation, but these have from the same report yielded no tangible results.

For instance, it said that, “in line with its mandate to ensure licensees’ commitment to safe energy delivery, the commission, during the same period, commenced hearings on some of the incidences involving various health and safety breaches,” but could not conclude them because, “the complexity of many of the cases,” meant that enforcement actions and appropriate penalties in each case could not be finalized.

It also stated that it has continued to work on a framework for penalties and compensations guidelines which would end discretionary payment of compensations to victims or victims’ families by the Discos; this framework has however remained incomplete because it often said this in its previous reports.

To address the complaints raised by customers on metering and billing, service interruption and others, the NERC also said that it has continued to monitor the complaint handling and resolution process adopted by the Discos to intervene when necessary, but its forum offices have according to the report not recorded impressive resolution turnaround times.

For instance, in the second quarter of 2019, it explained that the offices received a total of 2,856 complaints, including 1,586 pending complaints from the first quarter of 2019 from customers.

“This shows 6.65 per cent increase from the 2,678 complaints received during the preceding quarter. The forum offices in Ibadan Disco’s franchise area received the highest number of complaints. This is not surprising as Ibadan Disco had the lowest resolution rate (76.63 per cent) of customers’ complaints during the same period.

“On the other hand, Yola forum office received the lowest number of complaints during the same period. However, the forum offices in Enugu Disco’s franchise were among those that received a large number of complaints despite its (Enugu Disco’s) claim of having 96.30 per cent resolution rate – the second-highest resolution rate among the Discos,” it stated.

Similarly, in the last quarter of 2018, the NERC report said 2,939 complaints from customers who were unsatisfied with the Discos’ services and decisions were lodged at its offices, adding that this excluded the 1,117 outstanding complaints carried over from the preceding quarter.

“Out of the complaints lodged at forum offices during the quarter under review, about 49 per cent were resolved (with or without a hearing) as against 43 per cent of the complaints resolved during the third quarter of 2018,” it said.