Electric Jolt to Reality

May 16th, 2014

This week Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) the country’s major provider of electricity woke up the country and its leaders out their slumber when they turned off the power to electricity theft riddled communities. The outages were between 8-12 hours and limited to the daytime. This riled up the politicians and paying customers to denounce the strong and according to some the possibly illegal action of JPS. Ironically, this week a fire knocked out the power to Gordon House and left the parliamentarians sweltering in heat as they protested JPS’ actions. Like everything there are two sides of the story. However there are some clear facts.

Electricity theft occurs both on residential and commercial levels. There are communities, particularly garrison communities, of Jamaica where many residents, according to JPS, do not pay for electricity. The theft of electricity is brazen in many cases with throw up wires(illegal connections) clearly visible.  This activity has been allowed to fester and over the decades, not years, it has become ingrained, an almost acceptable way of life. The politicians, from the Peoples National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) have turned a blind eye and spoken with forked tongues on the matter.

The numbers

According to information from JPS’ twitter handle @myJPSonline, the theft of electricity has increased from 8% in January 2003 to 17% in December 2013.  In addition, it costs US$30 million dollars each year to fight electricity theft. An estimated 200,000 households are not paying for electricity. In this latest action, the communities targeted were areas where over 70% of the electricity consumed is allegedly not paid for but simply stolen.

What is startling to accept initially but easy to understand on reflection is that, according the JPS, the average electricity thief, consumes 3 times as much as a legitimate customer.  That level of consumption seems to indicate that the theft is way beyond what is necessary to maintain a basic standard of modern life. As I have struggled to conserve, I have avoided using the air conditioner, placed my refrigerator on a timer, installed fluorescent blubs (LED next) among other activities.

If a bakery delivers goods to an area every week and 7 out of 10 times, (70%), the delivery truck is robbed of its entire contents, would the bakery continue to deliver its goods there? If a cooking gas delivery company has its truck robbed every time it goes to deliver in an area of 70% of is cylinders are they going to continue to deliver.

No company can survive with that level of loss. It is simply not sustainable and if nothing is done, JPS will eventually be bankrupt and all of Jamaica will be without light. Without a doubt it is very, very unfortunate that the legitimate customers in areas suffered. However they, like the rest of legitimate customers, suffer with high bills that cover the cost of the thievery. The theft of electricity has to be eliminated or at least reduced significantly.

Solutions

There is no doubt that the rate of electricity is very high in Jamaica and something has to be done. The push to renewable energy, solar, hydro, wind and so on must continue. The development of more energy efficient buildings must be encouraged even mandated.

It seems no one wants to learn to do without. In an imperfect world, not everything that someone else has I will be able to afford. The problem is not one that can simply be stopped by innovations, smart metering, more policing and stiffer penalties. All that is good and absolutely needed, but the issue is it a moral and behavioral one. We have a culture of jealously, dishonesty, and lack of self-control. One only has to look at the behavior at accidents with delivery trucks; the goods are stolen and injured relived of their wallets and other personal belongings.

It is one about what principles do I want my children to see and understand. JPS needs to re-run some of those ‘how come’ ads? The stealing of electricity or water or anything else for that matter is wrong and must not be condoned.

I am glad I was grown up on certain principles that thought me to do without what I cannot afford and protect my integrity and dignity.

While JPS might have acted without warning with this latest, “shut off light to the community initiative”, Jamaica needed a jolt of reality.


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