Friday, November 7, 2014

Smart Talk: Solving a $12M problem

Retail establishments employ security cameras, guards and anti-theft devices to discourage shoplifting. Unfortunately, with analog meters there’s no easy way to detect when someone “shoplifts” electricity. As a result, everybody loses. Higher costs and wasted electricity become the burden of honest ratepayers.

Forbes (February 23, 2013) reports that an estimated $6 billion of electricity is annually stolen in the United States, making it probable that electricity is the third most stolen item behind cars and credit cards. Exact numbers are hard to come by because there’s no inventory to reconcile. In 2013, MLGW’s revenue protection department was able to identify and recover $3 million in revenue from 11,000 cases of utility theft. There were an equal number of unresolved cases — and that’s just the number of cases MLGW knows about.

Smart meters have alerts which report, within minutes, when tampering occurs. The meters’ alerts enable MLGW to act swiftly to catch culprits and the remote disconnect feature minimizes future theft. In areas where smart meters are already installed, cases have been resolved quickly. For example, at an apartment complex, signals from several smart meters indicated they’d been disturbed. In response, the electricity was remotely disconnected and an investigation opened. While MLGW’s revenue protection officers were conducting their site visit, an unaware bootlegger continued unsuccessful attempts to reconnect service to several apartments. The responsible party was caught and charged with diversion (utility theft).

MLGW suspects the real cost of uncovered theft to our community is $12 million. That’s money MLGW could use to keep rates low for all customers.

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