Jamaica’s sole power company to reduce electricity to entire communities where theft is common

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KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaica’s sole power distributor is slashing the number of hours that electricity is provided to entire communities where power theft is rampant, officials said Tuesday.

The new move by the Jamaica Public Service Company was blasted by the main opposition party and the Caribbean country’s utility regulator has requested a meeting with the power company because of the impact on legitimate customers.

Senior utility official Gary Barrow said the company has “tried everything to reduce electricity theft” and is now forced to cut hours that power is provided to neighbourhoods where more than 70 per cent of it is pilfered. The company says it is trying to minimize effects on businesses, hospitals and schools in eight impoverished communities that have so far been identified as prone to widespread theft.

Last year, the company removed nearly 200,000 illegal lines, audited about 113,000 accounts and collaborated with police to arrest roughly 1,200 people suspected of energy theft. But high levels of theft continue, causing “extensive damage to the company’s equipment and ongoing power outages caused by illegal connections,” the utility said in a statement.

Karl Samuda, the opposition Jamaica Labor Party’s spokesman on energy, said he believes the strategy violates the company’s license. The utility, typically referred to as JPS, is unfairly punishing hardworking people who pay their electricity bills, he said.

“It escapes me as to why JPS would opt to act in this manner and expose itself to all kinds of legal liabilities and moral hazards,” Samuda said.

Jamaica’s Office of Utilities Regulation said it was seeking a meeting with the power company’s executives and requires more information about its decision. The regulator said it was already receiving customer complaints and was “treating this issue with the highest priority.”

In Jamaica and other Caribbean islands, electricity is as much as five times as expensive as on the U.S. mainland. Import-dependent Jamaica pays rates of roughly 43 cents per kilowatt hour, rendering the island economically uncompetitive. In many gritty areas, where joblessness is common, a tangle of illegal lines can often be seen tapping into power lines.

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David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd

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