JIS News

The Urban Electricity Regularisation Programme (UERP), set up some three years ago, is fulfilling its mandate of addressing the problem of illegal electricity connection in inner-city areas in Kingston and helping residents to regularise supplies.
Initially, the government’s main priority was to ensure that citizens in rural communities had access to electricity through the Rural Electrification Programme (REP), but when the illegal connections in urban areas started to spiral out of control, the UERP was set up in 2003 to stem the problem.
General Manager of REP, Keith Garvey, tells JIS News that it was “a mammoth task,” to attend to both issues at once, but “since both were equally urgent, we had to move toward solutions. At one point, we had people, though not very many, without connections to the national grid, while others had illegal connections, enjoying the convenience of electricity at the expense of others.”
In the 2003/2004 financial year, the government pumped $20 million into a pilot project, to assist some 1,000 homes in the inner city areas to access electricity legally, with $56 million allocated to the programme for fiscal 2005/2006.
The eight communities targeted in the pilot project were: Pleasant Heights in the Windward Road area; Belrock off Olympic Way; Mexico in Arnett Gardens; Tel Aviv; McGreggor Gully off Fourth Avenue; Grants Pen; Maverley as well as Majesty Gardens community off Spanish Town Road.
“The idea was to set up a (revolving) fund where we could reach an agreement with the residents to make installments at bill payment outlets that would cover the cost of connection and regularisation, which the government is subsidising,” Mr. Garvey explains. While 953 householders have taken the opportunity to regularise their connections, he tells JIS News that others are still hesitant to take advantage of the revolving fund, claiming that they fear prosecution.
He appeals to such persons to come forward, as the aim of the project is not to prosecute them, but to assist them in legalizing their connection to the energy grid. He says that those who continue to steal electricity could face fines or even imprisonment.
“Stealing is deemed to be a criminal act, which is punishable by law,” Mr. Garvey points out, adding that, “consuming electricity without being officially connected to the supply point or registered as a consumer by your local distributor, as well as meter tampering, is considered illegal.”
In suggesting a solution for those who do not want to go through the government’s project to regularise supplies, Mr. Garvey suggests that, “you will need to contact the power company and apply for a connection.
The customer service standard stipulates that it should not take more than 20 working days to connect you to the supply network. However, a connection fee will be required from you before your request can be effected.”
Richard Ferguson, Systems Administrator in the Ministry of Industry, Technology, Energy and Commerce, tells JIS News that while many of the 953 householders have signed provisional house-wiring agreements, “only about 244 have responded by paying their deposits at Paymaster locations to enact the agreement.”
Of this amount, 205 contracts have been issued for house wiring, 25 have been completed and certified by the government electrical inspectors and the other 180 are being wired.
Mr. Ferguson says that many people continue to steal electricity out of ignorance or sheer neglect. Pointing to the dangers of an illegal connection, he says this can cause an overload of the system, thereby causing tripping, which result in power interruptions. “The overload could even affect neighbouring areas,” he adds.
The overload, he further adds, could also result in over-voltages, which could damage the appliances of paying customers. These customers would have no way to seek recourse to the supplier, as these problems did not result from negligence on the part of the supplier.
Turning to the REP, which was instituted some 30 years ago to bring electricity to all rural communities, Mr. Garvey says that the project has significantly improved standard of living of rural householders and stimulated economic activity. “The programme has also helped stem the migration from rural areas to the cities,” he tells JIS News.
He says that over the last three decades, more than 4,800 kilometres of electrical distribution pole lines have been extended, and some 69,000 houses wired. These accomplishments have raised the percentage of electrification from around 50 per cent when the programme started, to 92 per cent at present.
“This means that only eight per cent of Jamaicans do not have access to the power grid, which is something we want to address as soon as possible in order to reduce the amount,” Mr. Garvey informs.
Based on field surveys, it is estimated that another 15,600 houses are left to be wired and another 860-kilometres of pole lines to be built to give these households access.