Report by Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) correspondent
West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (WBSEDCL) has begun the implementation of the smart metring scheme in phases. In Phase 1, approximately 2.5 lakh smart metres are being installed to cover ‘Industrial & Commercial’ consumers with connected load between 5 to 50 KVA and all government consumers with a connected load below 50 KVA. In the subsequent phases, domestic consumers will be covered. WBSEDCL supplies power to a total of around 2.03 crore consumers across West Bengal.
Though smart meters are being installed presently in post-paid mode, they can be converted to pre-paid mode at any instant, even remotely.
Small factory, shop and owners have expressed their opposition to the installation of smart meters as it would put additional financial burden on them if they have to pay for electricity in advance. There is also a fear that electricity rates will go up after the installation of these meters.
Another concern of consumers is that smart meters will enable the introduction of the Time of Day (ToD) tariff system. Under the ToD tariff system, during solar hours (eight hours a day as specified by SERC), the tariff will be 10% to 20% lower than the normal tariff, while during peak hours, the tariff will be 10% to 20% higher. This means that when power consumption is unavoidably high at night, the tariff will be higher. The ToD system thus penalises consumers for using electricity when they genuinely need it the most. The ToD tariff will be applied immediately after the installation of smart metres.
The order for the first phase of installation of smart meters has been given to Iskraemeco India Private Limited. The private company is responsible for implementing and financing the entire smart metering project. WBSEDCL will pay a monthly charge per meter to the Company for 93 months from the time system comes into operation. The monthly charge paid to the private company will be recovered from consumers.
Electricity workers have also opposed the installation of smart meters as it would pave the way for private companies to enter the field of electricity distribution.
Com. Prasanta Nandi Choudhury, General Secretary, Electricity Employees Federation of India (EEFI) said that under the Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS), each smart metre will cost Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000, with a maximum life of seven to eight years. Therefore, smart metres need to be replaced every eight years, which will burden consumers but benefit manufacturing companies.
He elaborated, “For example, considering India’s 26 crore consumers, the cost of the metres will be Rs 2,08,000 crore, which will be borne directly by the public, and half of this cost can be used for upgrading the entire distribution system’s infrastructure. This scheme seems to have nothing to do with network development. The main objective of installing smart metres is to collect money in advance for the ease of doing business for private companies.”