Tuesday, April 14, 2009

More electricity woes

Someone posted a comment on my blog post Cambodia's expensive electricity:

We just received an electric bill for USD300 for last month. We are charged .28 per kwh. We believe we're being ripped off by someone in the building because we are foreigners and many friends here have told us that often times foreigners will unknowingly be paying for many people's electricity in their residence. We hate to be that suspicious, but we were away a lot of last month and left everything turned off. I'm not sure what we can do to dispute it without causing problems with management.

I've posted a reply but essentially this person is not paranoid. If you go around Phnom Penh, you will see little food stalls that have a single naked bulb lighting up their stall. The wire of that bulb is sometimes connected to a large electrical cable overhead. So somehow they have managed to tap into someone else's electricity by connecting a smaller wire to the larger cable.

It is not just Cambodians who do this extremely dangerous thing. In March, USA Today reported that more and more Americans have resorted to stealing electricity as the economic downturn continues.
"As the dismal economy spawns desperate measures, some Americans are resorting to a hazardous practice: stealing electricity.

Many utilities say energy theft has risen sharply during the economic downturn. Culprits include residential customers whose power is turned off when they fall behind on their bills and small businesses struggling to keep their doors open.

They're using a wide array of tactics. Some run wires from utility lines directly into a circuit-breaker panel, bypassing the electric meter. Others attach cables on either side of a meter, swipe meters from vacant houses when theirs are removed or tamper with meters to lower their electric bills.

"We're finding more and more people are … stealing electricity because of the poor economy," says John Hammerberg, investigations supervisor for Tampa Electric in Florida....

The practice is dangerous. Touching a power line can burn or even kill an untrained person. In Philadelphia this month, an illegal electricity hookup in a row house sparked a fire that killed a 30-year-old woman and her 8-year-old daughter."

When we first moved to our house in Siem Reap, we too had our suspicions, because our bills were for USD65 a month for the two of us compared with USD80 in Phnom Penh, where we had a cafe with 2 large fridges and the Bloom workshop with half a dozen motorised sewing machines. So I made the landlord check if someone was tapping into our electrical supply.

The best advice I can give is to anyone with this problem is to ask your landlord to install a meter or counter so you can see exactly how much you use. Not that this is full-proof: since installing a new meter after the old one broke in the Bloom shop at the Russian market, the counter jumps twice as fast. Of course this means I have to pay twice as much. We I have tried disputing with the electricity company staff who come to collect the money but it hasn't got us anywhere. It's so annoying when you know what is going on yet are not in position to do anything about it.

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