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Stealing Electricity


High Electricity Bills and Neighbours stealing Your Power

You may find that you have high electricity bills? Do you think your neighbour might have connected into your power supply and is stealing electricity. In countries where power is expensive or supply is limited, stealing electricity is a common practice. It is best to make sure that you are not losing power because of a fault before suspecting someone is stealing power. If someone is stealing power we look at why people steal electricity, things to check and methods to use to find put if people are stealing your electricity.

Stealing Electricity may be a common practice

A client rang to tell me that her electricity meter was turning very fast even though she was not using much electricity.

Our electrician checked her distribution box and discovered an additional cable connected into the box circuits. He disconnected the cable and a building site on the next door piece of land suddenly went very quiet.

Our customer's landlord had connected a power cable to her supply to power his building project next door without her knowledge. The landlord had been “borrowing” her electricity.

In another case a client was up in his roof wiring some lights once when he came across a wire he couldn’t account for. It came out of a junction box in his circuit and disappeared through a hole in the wall. When he disconnected it he heard screams of complaint coming from all over the district. Showers stopped, televisions died and lights went out. The lady next door shrieked in dismay as her curling tongues went cold. In this case the lady next door (once again the landlord) had connected a cable above the ceiling to take power from my client's house to her own. The connection had obviously been there for many, many years.

Why do people steal electricity?

Stealing from the power company or from neighbouring houses and buildings is a common practice in many countries around the world and generally is caused by three things:

  1. In places where electricity is expensive
  2. In places where electricity is in short supply
  3. In places where getting an electricity connection is difficult and/or very expensive.

In Bali connecting an electricity cable to someone else’s supply or even directly to the PLN supply is a surprisingly common practice. A recent comment from the state electricity company suggested that, in Bali, on paper there is plenty of spare capacity while the reality is that the system is so badly overloaded that there simply isn’t enough power available. The difference between the "on paper" calculation and the reality suggests that there is a lot of electricity theft going on. There are a lot of people who are “borrowing” power from the system without paying for it.

One can assume that the same applies in other parts of Indonesia.

If you live in a country where many people live at a low economic level and where power is expensive or in short supply stealing power is likely to be a common practice.

Check Your Power Usage

Check your electricity usage and compare with your bill, watch your electricity bills to see if the usage is excessive or fluctuates at times that are different to your usage pattern.

Recently I came upon a regular client who told me that for years he had paid the local community organisation a generous sum of money each month to come and read the meter and notify the state electricity company of the reading. After many years teh state electricity company came to read the meter as a spot check. They handed over a very large bill. It turned out that for years the local community organisation had not bothered reading the meter but had sort of “estimated” usage and had kept the money for themselves. There was hefty arrears bill to pay.

The electricity company can be very assertive and threatened to cut my client off if he didn't pay the bill immediately. They eventually negotiated a deal to pay the outstanding bill over 6 months.

Check everything before you suspect theft.

It pays to check your electricity bill. You also need to investigate before jumping to conclusions. A recent case of a "not very obvious" short circuit in swimming pool lights which caused heavy electricity loss indicates the point.

You should check the bill with your meter to make sure it has been recently physically checked and not estimated.

Your electricity bill will tell you a lot and understanding it can help you save perhaps a lot of money.

Checking for Electricity Theft

If you do suspect theft there are three things you can do:

1. Switch everything off then check the meter

Switch every electrical item in your house off and then check to see if you meter is still turning. If power is still going through your meter then you need to find out where it is going. Note that switching your circuit breakers off might not show there is a probelm. If there is a secret connection to one of your circuits, this power loss will be cut off if you switch ethe circuit breakers off.

2. Check the neighbourhood for power outages

Wait until darkness in the evening, walk around the neighbourhood and see where lights, televisions and other power is being used. Switch your power off at your houses main switch then walk around the neighbourhood and see if lights and other devices are still on. Stolen power is most commonly used for lights.

3. Call an electrician to check your circuits for any stray connections

Copyright © Phil Wilson July 2007
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