The Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) has been in the eye of a storm over its failure to supply sufficient prepaid meters. In this interview with Standardbusiness’s Victoria Mtomba (VM), ZETDC managing director Julian Chinembiri (JC) speaks about how much the company is losing in terms of potential revenue and the ambitious plans to grow the prepaid customer base to 800 000 by 2018.
VM: How many prepaid meters does ZETDC still need to procure to satisfy the current demand, and what is the cost?
JC: About 250 000 prepaid meters are required to complete the prepaid metering project and the ongoing connection of new customers to grow the prepaid customer base of 800 000 by 2018. A total $25 million will be required to procure the meters.
VM: Is this money available and at what stage is the procurement process now? When should consumers expect installation of these meters?
JC: Money is made available for the procurement of the meters in batches. Tender adjudication was completed and the meters are expected to come in November this year.
VM: How much is ZETDC losing from failure to meet this demand by new house owners and users of the old meter system?
JC: ZETDC is losing potential revenue of about $300 000 per month from unconnected customers. Customers on the old meter systems are paying their bills and are disconnected when they fail to pay up.
VM: How much has ZETDC managed to recover of the $1 billion owed to the company since introduction of the prepaid meter system?
JC: ZETDC has recovered $61 million via the prepaid platform so far.
VM: Can you confirm that customers owing the company $500 and above are being disconnected until they make the payment plans allowing them to pay up their debts within 12 months? Can you please clarify what the company is doing about this issue as it is a matter of intense public interest?
JC: Customers owing over $500 are not being disconnected. All prepaid customers with debt are now required to pay 40% of their electricity purchase towards retiring the old debt. However, we urge those with large debts to come forward and clear arrears within three years.
VM: Why did the company decide to abandon the previous arrangement whereby 30% of whatever debtors paid for their electricity went towards clearing their debt?
JC: The previous recovery rate of 30% was abandoned because some debts would take many years to settle. For example, if a customer owes $1 000 and buys electricity worth $50 per month, $15 goes towards debt. This means that it will take six years to clear the $1 000 debt at $15 per month.
ZETDC requires debts to be paid in order to anchor power supply expansion projects in order to reduce load-shedding and help in the country’s economic recovery.
VM: How many people have been affected by this new system? How many people owed ZETDC more than $500 — what has been the response so far to the disconnection? Are people paying up or they remain disconnected?
JC: All customers with debt are affected by the new rate of 40%. No prepaid customers are being disconnected.
VM: We understand that ZETDC plans to roll out another new billing system using smart meters. Can you explain what these are and how they are different from the current prepaid meters. Aer you going to do away with prepaid meters?
JC: No new billing system is being installed. The existing prepaid meters will remain. The smart meter is a new type of meter that will be installed on medium and large customers currently not within the scope of prepaid meters that are being installed on domestic and small business customers. Smart meters can be linked to a central back office system through a communication channel.
The meters can be remotely controlled from the back office.
The salient features of smart meters are as follows:
- Remote recharging of token
- Remote connection and disconnection
- Tamper detection
- Remote switching of appliances
- Time of use tariff function
Remote power supply level adjustment without switching off or load-shedding completely.
VM: What do the current power generation challenges mean to the ordinary consumer? Is it going to be more load-shedding and when is the load shedding going to end?
JC: The current load-shedding programme has been reviewed in view of the reduced output at Kariba and the summer load-shedding programme will be published shortly.
There will be increased load-shedding. The duration of the increased load-shedding will depend on the inflows into Lake Kariba.