Exorbitant electricity bills attributed to average billing system

The average billing was adopted predominantly for Thimphu and Paro

The Bhutan Power Corporation Limited (BPC) has clarified that the high electricity bills generated was because the billing was done based on the average consumption of the past three months.

The BPC has been receiving numerous complaints regarding the electricity bills raised after the second nationwide lockdown.

The Director of Distribution Services, BPC, Sandeep Rai said that as part of BPC’s COVID-19 protocol and Standard Operating Procedure (SoP), BPC resorted to the average billing of customers during the lockdown period.

The meter reading and bill delivery had to be temporarily suspended during the lockdown period.

He said that the bills for January 2021 were prepared based on the average consumption of the past three months for September, October and November.

The average billing was adopted predominantly for Thimphu and Paro. The same procedure was followed during the first nationwide lockdown in August 2020.

“It is a standard billing practice in the world,” he said.

He said that the for the month of February the actual meter reading bill was made.

According to the notification from the BPC when the lockdown was relaxed, the February bill was prepared on actual meter reading which reflected the increased energy consumption that was not accounted for in the average bill of January.

Additionally, the bills also reflected the outstanding of the previous bills including the penalty. The penalty was generated by the system for the customers who had not paid the bills.

As was done for the first lockdown period, the same will be waived off during the last two-tariff cycles and adjusted accordingly.

“In February there was sharp increase in bill amount because it was the account for what was consumed and not billed in December; people were actually consuming high,” he said.

For instance, if for any average the bill amount was for 600 units and when the actual consumption was 700 units, the balance 100 units was added in the next month’s bill.

He said that customers’ complaint is that the BPC is billing too much on the third block.

He said that the average consumption of the customers in urban areas is above 500 units. “Anyhow, even if we had billed the customers according to the meter reading the bill amount would be high.”

“BPC would not gain too much with the third block,” he added.

However, he said that in a few cases, if the average consumption is below 500 units, the BPC would have billed them more in the third block. These cases were taken into account and the BPC entertained the customers when they tried to check the meter-reading and resolve the issue.

According to the BPC, from December 21 last year, the peak load started and consumption of electricity reached up to 70MW on December 28. Till December 20, electricity consumption averaged 65MW.

In 2019, the peak was 65MW units consumed in winter.

He said that compared to the previous year there was 25% to 30% increase in bill amount despite the institutions being closed, “which is okay. If it is very high we encourage people to drop to BPC.”

On a daily average, the BPC has been receiving 20 to 30 complaints.

“It is a win-win situation for both the BPC and customers.”

The BPC’s notification states that the revised bills for January and February months will be issued at the earliest. For customers who had already cleared the bills, the adjustment will be made in the subsequent bills.

He mentioned that even on an average, if the bill amount was less, when the actual meter reading was done the balance amount would have added to the third block because on an average people have consumed more that 500 units.

There might be exceptions with low consumers if the balance amount was added in the third block but they can always check with the actual meter reading since it is digital, he said.

A civil servant in Thimphu said in the month of January she paid around Nu 3,500 as electricity bill and Nu 6,000 in February.

“At my place, we have only a few family members and we didn’t use many electronics.”

Similarly, another Thimphu resident mentioned that usually during winter their electricity bill would not come to more than Nu 2,000 a month but this time the bill amount doubled to Nu 4,000.

In Thimphu alone, there are around 40,000 customers.

There are three types of tariff structure: low voltage, medium voltage and high voltage.

The domestic and household consumption fall under the low voltage including three blocks. Electricity consumption between 0-100 kilowatt-hour (kWh) falls under block I, 101-500kWh falls under block II and above 500kWh falls under block III.

In block I, the charge is Nu 1.28kWh, block II, Nu 2.68kWh and block III, Nu 3.60kWh.

Dechen Dolker from Thimphu