Do you receive "good luck letters" from oblenergos? Are the figures in the bills always the same as the actual meter counts? Why do electricity providers adjust the figures and drive people into debts? Why does the consumer not depend on his own electricity meter, but on the controller who comes to him? Electricity Meter: Millions in Fortune for Some, a Hangman's Noose for Others.
The Kherson Plus TV channel will try to figure out the arithmetic of bills from oblenergos, where the overstated figures come from, who draws those bills with its figures taken from thin air and the "warnings of disconnection."
After visiting the Subscriber Service Center of Khersonoblenergo EC, one will see it clearly that 90-95 percent of the consumers who apply to the energy company are dissatisfied with its work, regardless of the exact reason that brings the person there. There is no need to be a sociologist to see that the percentage of those dissatisfied with the oblenergo's work among common Kherson residents is critically high.
So, you have also gotten into the black list of debtors? The oblenergo is pressuring you mercilessly for a few dozens of hryvnias in arrears, threatening to disconnect you from electricity supply? How to prove your point in a standoff with the monopolist and still remain with electricity supply? It was not difficult for us to find actual consumers and condominium leaders claiming that the cunning electricity provider engages in falsifying the figures and does not care about your problems.
Since February 2013, Valerii Stativko, a native of Kherson, has been trying to figure out where the extra kilowatts in his bills come from. He has been going to the oblenergo's central office and subscriber service at 5 Pestelya Street for almost four years in a row as to his work. He argues that the figures in the bills have never coincided with the meter readings, being always overstated. And according to Valerii Ivanovych, it is impossible to reconcile them with the oblenergo. Only a pensioner can afford standing for 2-3 hours in a line to submit the payment documents for reconciliation. But when should the answer be expected and what will it be? No one knows.
Hanna Mudra, manager of the subscriber department at Khersonoblenergo EC PrJSC, argues that it is actually not that difficult to fill out a statement of adjustments, and the figures will be reconciled within a month.
But instead of the promised month, Darya, a Kherson resident, has been waiting for the reconciliation and recalculation of her bills from the oblenergo for more than a year. For a long time, the mother of two little children had been receiving "good luck letters" featuring inflated figures until she decided to stand up against the brazenness of the electricity provider. She showed a stack of electricity bills with debt figures varying but always nearing one thousand hryvnias. And all this is despite the fact that Darya pays her electricity bills timely and accurately. She spent a lot of time getting to the "window" at the Subscriber Service Center and was shocked by the rough manner the oblenergo staff was treating its subscribers. After all, she had to wait all year long only to hear in the end, "We have been unable to straighten out the situation with your bills."
Olena Mykhailenko from Nova Kakhovka contacted our editorial office by Skype and told us that she paid for electricity every month, accurately to the meter readings, but still received the oblenergo messages warning of her growing debt. The saga with bills due, disconnection warnings, reconciliation of the billed figures, and photocopies of payment documents covering a year lasted for ten months. All such clarifications seriously affect the nervous system and drive blood pressure up.
In turn, Hanna Mudra assures that the oblenergo does not fiddle with the billing and does not deceive anyone. There would be no problems, if people timely reported their meter readings and paid the bills, she says. The oblenergo explains that its workers are unable to check the meter count of every subscriber on the last day of the month, therefore they are compelled to use the "average daily" count of the meter to calculate the sum due.
And now Hanna Mudra explained why the figures in the bills differed so often from the meter counts. As a matter of fact, the billing period is a calendar month. If the controller visits you, say, on the 25th, he may add the remaining days as the average meter counts for the past month. And if the controller never manages to get to you during the month, he may deduce an average electricity consumption amount for the period. That is where the strange figures come from...
Most of the city and oblast residents we talked to complained about the updated form of bills that made it impossible to understand what you pay for and what you owe for. The old bill form was clear and straightforward: today's meter count minus last month's meter count, and the difference is the amount due. The purpose of the updated bill, Kherson residents suspect, is to confuse the consumer and make him pay more.
The scale of public discontent with the work of Khersonoblenergo came to the mind of Dmytro Kozonak and his associates as they started the "No to Energy Terror!" campaign. An initiative group of Kherson businessmen created the website https://energoterroru.net/ and after a few months of activity, realized that the new scheme of the oblenergo's work with its consumers looked very much like a shell game - an inattentive player would always lose and pay more. The hundreds of petitions and complaint letters coming to the website from Kherson people maintain the same point: we are being swindled and despised...
It may seem that the electricity meter is a simple thing. Its purpose is absolutely clear. But in fact, the meter is a key element in the puzzled scheme that consumers have long been dubbing fraudulent.
How to solve the problems with oblenergos in a civilized manner, how to prove that the figures added in the bills are an error? The "No to Energy Terror!" campaign has found a solution, tried it out, and already has positive results.
Andrii Tkachenko, head of NGO "We are Kherson People" revealed to us a scheme of civilized struggle with oblenergos. The NGO has developed a package of documents, including a request for information and a complaint. With these instruments, the common consumer can defend his or her rights. They are available for everybody at https://energoterroru.net/shablony_skarg/
Remember, at the beginning of the program, we introduced Darya who spent more than a year trying to straighten things out with the added numbers in her bills from the oblenergo. She found the needed complaint templates at the campaign website and used them properly. As Darya said, the oblenergo responded promptly to the professionally drawn complaints and in two weeks they carried out the reconciliation of bills and returned the results which she had been waiting for over a year. As turned out, there was no UAH 800-1,000 debt; on the contrary, there was a UAH 15 overpayment.
Andrii Tkachenko points out that when the Khersonoblenergo staff sees the consumer is serious and confident and is ready to appeal to the NEURC, court, or the Ombudsman, they are quickly become cooperative. And the numbers in your bills surprisingly turn from negative to positive.
The "Admiral 152" condominium has spent two years trying to get an answer from Khersonoblenergo why they are charged exorbitant prices in a heating season. Condominium board member Edgar Hrymakovskyi is surprised at the claimed fact that the 3-kilowatt LED lamps, one on each floor of the nine-storey building (incidentally, the building has no elevator, but this is a different story) could possibly consume UAH 20 thousand worth of electricity a month.
Condominium head Lidiia Patoka emphasizes that Khersonoblenergo shows no desire to look into the matter and find out where such losses come from, blackmailing instead the building residents with threats of power disconnection. It is more convenient for the energy workers just to take readings from the general building meter and drive the 170 families living in the building into debts.
It is now clear to condominiums why Khersonoblenergo ignores the numerous complaints from residents of high-rise buildings. This is because they have found a “whip,” which is a threat to disconnect the consumer form power supply. And it works: people get outraged but pay. With a general building meter installed, installing individual meters for each apartment does not seem profitable to the monopolist.
Yurii Trehubko, a regional representative of the Condominium Establishment and Support National Council under the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, says the general building metering is the main headache for condominiums. Yurii, as the board chairman of the Kashtan condominium in Kherson, has found a way of how to get rid of the undesirable financial burdens and not to overpay the oblenergo. He has also resolved the problem of electricity stealing in the building. As a matter of fact, energy workers are never willing to take their operating losses into account, and unfortunately, most condominiums and housing management offices cover them. There is a NEURC order that explicitly prohibits general building electricity consumption metering. But in spite of it, Khersonoblenergo keeps pushing this very metering option. Regarding the electricity stealing, Yurii has installed a 1 ampere automatic switch in every entrance hall of the building. It is sufficient for the LED lighting, but immediately goes off if an unauthorized connection occurs.
We often forget that the consumer has the right for services and information, and if Khersonoblenergo ignores your requests and petitions, you can bring the energy company to administrative responsibility, and the easiest way to do this is to report its violation, using the NEURC hotline
(044) 204 70 72
So, let us be careful with power supply companies, because alternatives to oblenergos and power distribution zones are not expected anytime soon – possibly only in two or three years when the new electricity market rules work in full swing and the new market model creates competition and choice of suppliers.
Of course, you may install solar panels on the roof, or set up a few windmill-driven generators. But will you be allowed to do this? Remember that those in power will lose huge profits in this case...
© Iryna Mezenteva
This investigative material has been prepared as part of the USAID Transparent Energy project. The views of the author may not necessarily coincide with those of the United States Agency for International Development and the DiXi Group Think Tank.