BPC asked to refund energy subsidy amount to consumers

The Bhutan Power Corporation Limited (BPC) has been asked to verify all the anomalies and adjust energy subsidy benefits in the subsequent months to the consumers, where eligible.

This directive is from the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) under the economic affairs ministry and the Bhutan Electricity Authority (BEA). The two offices jointly carried out an in-depth analysis of the high amount of electricity bill for the month of February 2021 issued by the BPC to the consumers after the relaxation of the second lockdown.

In order to delve into the issue, trend analysis of energy consumption of 46,456 active consumers in Thimphu for the past three years was carried out and accordingly the scale of issue was assessed and areas of high incidence of relatively higher bills identified.

According to the report, around 15% of 46,456 active consumers in Thimphu had received about 100% increase in electricity consumption bill for January and February 2021 compared to the corresponding months of the year 2020.

It was found that the January bill was based on the average consumption of the preceding three months with much lower consumption, which resulted in a much higher bill in February 2021.

While there were discrepancies in the application of the block tariff benefits for January and February, the issue was resolved with the normalization of the bills for that period.

The report also states that since the BPC adopted an average billing method during the first lockdown for the months of August and September 2020, the average bill of three preceding months for May, June and July 2020 were considered and computed as the bill for the August 2020, and similarly, the average bills of June, July and August 2020 was computed as September 2020 bill. However, as the calculated averaged bill of three months was higher than the actual reading, BPC adjusted the excess amount in the months of October and November 2020 in some cases.

The report mentions that the application of average method and adjustment in the first lockdown had a cascading effect during the second lockdown as the average of October, November and December months of the year 2020, computed for January 2021, was much lower than actual consumption.

However, when the consumers were billed on actual reading for the month of February

2021, the amount was relatively higher resulting in several complaints from the consumers. Therefore, BPC, after adjusting the energy charges and eligible energy subsidies, reissued the bills for these two months by taking the average bills of January and February 2021.

Nevertheless, it was noted that as a result of the average billing method implemented for the months of August and September 2020, this resulted in lower billing of consumption for the months of October and November 2020 and in the process, the consumers were not benefited with block tariff subsidy.

Further, in order to validate the energy consumption, a field visit was made to the premises of 36 complainants having higher bills issues spread across Thimphu. The field visit findings indicated that the estimated energy consumption of the consumers was similar to the revised bill issued by BPC for February 2021.

Interventions

In light of the findings and observations, the specific interventions have been directed to be carried out.

The report states that the differences in the amount reflected in the March 2021 bill and the clarification letter issued by BPC regarding bills for the months of December 2020, January and February 2021 including the penalties reflected are being resolved by BPC in the April bill.  BPC will submit a compliance report to BEA for verification.

However, as the bill amount is quite huge for most of the consumers, BPC is directed to work towards extending the part payments until June 2021 to reduce financial burden of the consumers.

The report also states that 16,922 consumers impacted during the second lockdown have been provided block tariff benefits by BPC through the normalization of bills. Similarly, BPC is directed to work out the block tariff benefits for the first lockdown and provide applicable benefits to all affected consumers across the country through adjustment in subsequent bills.

BPC is also directed to verify all these anomalies and adjust energy subsidy benefits in the subsequent months to the consumers, where eligible. In addition, it is recommended that the internal system to ensure periodic and accurate meter reading needs to be reviewed and strengthened to ensure application of fair block tariffs.

BPC is currently carrying out a detailed verification of metering and billing for a sample of 9,200 consumers in Thimphu by engaging an independent team to verify the meter readings at sites. Further, BPC is reviewing the existing SoPs for metering and billing for similar exigencies and also revising overall metering policy.

BPC will report the outcomes of this verification to BEA.

Further, a total of 316 consumers that registered complaints with BPC were also taken for the purpose of the study, out of which 106 complaints were under review.

The team selected 36 consumers from 106 complaints that were billed relatively higher in February 2021 and having irregularities in the previous billing pattern.

Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu