Non-paying utility customers take advantage of instalment option

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Factories that received power through dedicated feeders owe the utility Rs11 billion in unpaid bills.

November 11, 2019: The Nepal Electricity Authority’s delinquent industrial customers have begun appearing at its distribution centres to make partial payments a week after the utility amended its billing bylaws allowing them to clear their power bills in instalments.

This marks the end of a months-long row between the utility and industrialists over their years-old debts worth Rs11 billion.

Three factories located in the Biratnagar industrial corridor — Raghupati Jute Mills, Arihant Polypacks and Arihant Multi Fibres, all subsidiaries of the Golchha Organisation — which owe a combined Rs 210 million in unpaid energy bills have applied at the Biratnagar Distribution Centre for the instalment facility.

According to power utility officials, the payment period allowed to the industrial customers is equal to the length of time their account has been in arrears.

“The power utility has taken a liberal approach by amending its billing bylaws to create a win-win situation as it has allowed some firms to clear their dues in four years,” said Prabal Adhikari, spokesperson for the Nepal Electricity Authority.

“As a business entity, the utility also needs cash to fund its projects. But after extensive dialogue with the debtors, it has decided to be lenient and give them time to pay their dues.”

When asked about the recalcitrant customers who are still unwilling to clear their bills, Adhikari said the utility could resort to its last option of cutting off their power connection, but it hopes there will be no need to take such a step.

As per the amended provisions of the billing bylaws, if the firms fail to make regular payments after being allowed to pay in instalments, the utility can seek regular monthly instalments and an additional amount as fines for deferral or cut their electricity connections.

According to the electricity authority, 298 consumers are being supplied with electricity through dedicated feeders and trunk lines. Among them, 184 pay premium rates and around 25 factories have not paid their electricity bills since 2015.

The factories had secured 315 megawatts of 24-hour electricity supplied directly through dedicated feeders and trunk lines when the rest of the country was reeling under a severe power crisis.

A row between the industrialists and the power utility had intensified in May after the industrialists lodged petitions at multiple courts accusing the Nepal Electricity Authority of charging them illegally.

The power utility, in response, had warned the industrialists they could face theft charges for unauthorised use of electricity.

Nearly a month ago, the courts rejected petitions filed by more than dozen firms ordering them to take the matter to the power utility’s appeal committee and resolve it there, citing that the issue of electricity bills did not fall under the court’s purview.

They had gone to court after receiving high bills from the power utility for the electricity they had used through dedicated feeders for more than two years.

According to Adhikari, none of the firms in question has sought a review of the amount they have been billed.

Dissatisfied customers have to submit a deposit equivalent to the amount due before the appeal committee can process their application for a review.

During a recent meeting, the power utility board urged the Electricity Regulatory Commission to slash the rates imposed on institutions receiving electricity through dedicated feeders by around 50 percent of the existing rates.

Currently, any factory that wishes to consume electricity through a dedicated feeder system is required to pay around 70 percent more than general consumers.

Industrialists have time and again complained that the power utility is charging them exorbitant tariffs despite the end of the power crisis in the country.

The power utility board also acted on assessments from its internal committee and decided to impose premium charges on 58 firms who used dedicated feeders but had been billed the general rate earlier.

In June 2015, a board meeting of the electricity authority had set premium charges for factories using electricity through dedicated feeders from August that year.

A separate meeting of the now-dissolved Electricity Tariff Fixation Commission had decided in January 2016 to set premium charges effective from July for factories using direct electricity supplied through dedicated feeders and trunk lines.

The internal assessment committee, after adjusting the unpaid bills and revised bills for previously unaccounted dedicated users, had recommended to utility officials to recoup arrears worth around Rs11 billion.

 

Prahlad Rijal

Source: The Kathmandu Post