When the Volta River Authority (VRA) suddenly introduced a new variety of prepayment electricity meters in northern Ghana about two years ago through one of its subsidiaries, the Northern Electricity Distribution Company (NEDCo), several clients complained about the invention.

They complained because the new meters, unlike the old ones which were mostly installed individually on a wall and at a height the owner could easily reach, were bundled on a single utility pole in the streets in a manner that even the owners could not easily identify their meters.

A cluster of smart meters.

But shortly afterwards, the unhappy clients also discovered that, just as their smart meters were hanging in the air, the power they bought from NEDCo was ‘hanging’ in the air, too.

“At times, you go and buy credits. You only see receipts; you don’t see the credits reflecting in your meter. You can’t tell the whereabouts of the power you have bought,” Robert Krug, a resident in Bolgatanga, the capital of the Upper East Region, complained about a year after the smart meters were introduced.

Customers waiting in a queue to purchase power in the Upper East Region.

People who have faced similar hitches have called into live radio discussions in the region to voice their concerns. But the problems have remained.

Some clients have been itching to have a face-to-face public forum with VRA/NEDCo officials for answers to the ‘sluggish’ problems they have with the ‘smart’ meters. 

The VRA/NEDCo yard in Bolgatanga, Upper East Region.

That long-awaited opportunity finally presented itself in the Bongo District on Monday, 11 September 2023, when the Assembly Member for Anafobisi, Albert Akanmiim Agariga, brought NEDCo and Public Utility Regulation Commission (PURC) officials together to sensitise the people of Bon-Zuin about efficient use of power.

PURC officials addressing members of the community in Bongo during the sensitisation programme.

Several homes at Bon-Zuin, a section of the Anafobisi Electoral Area, are yet to enjoy electricity since the district was connected to national power grid in 1996.

The sensitisation gathering was meant to prepare those homes as NEDCo, led to the community by the assembly member, is set to connect them to the national grid in a month’s time.

Members of the community asking questions during the event.

“Concerning the new meters, most of us are suffering. When you run out of credits and you buy, the credits don’t come. You buy; it doesn’t come.

“Then, you are forced to visit the NEDCo office several times, wasting more time, energy and money. We are suffering. I am one of them,” a member of the community, Felix Ndemah, told the NEDCo officials at the gathering.

In reply, the leader of the NEDCo delegation, Issahak Jibril, blamed the hitches on network, and said efforts were being made to deal with the difficulties.

The leader of the NEDCo delegation, Issahak Jibril, addressing members of the community.

“The new meters you spoke of, we call them smart meters. They deal with network. Probably, most of us here use Vodafone, and sometimes we can see the challenge Vodafone network gives us here. So, if it comes like that, the system may issue, but the transaction would not be delivered to you because of network challenge.

“We apologise. We are supposed to improve it. Our authorities are taking the necessary steps to make sure better services are delivered to customers,” he said.

NEDCo teaches clients a ‘smart’ way to buy credits for ‘smart’ meters

The NEDCo official also gave customers advice about how to save money while buying power.

Bongo was connected to the national grid in 1996

“And the other challenge is that the way those who use the smart meters purchase credits is rather a burden to you the customer than a relief to you. If you go through the system, most of us come to the office to buy credits worth Gh¢20, Gh¢30, Gh¢15, Gh¢10. You see.

“If it happens like this, you the customer who is using it, you are suffering. Although we all understand that things are hard. As one of my senior men would always say, ‘It is raining but the ground is still hard’,” he said.

The sensitisation gathering precedes installation of electric meters in the community coming up in a month’s time.

He was referring to the current inability of millions of Ghanaians to meet reasonable basic living expenses across the country despite the efforts they are making to make ends meet in the midst of abundant resources.

“But just sit down and do a little Mathematics. The 10-10 cedis you bought within the month, or the 20-20 cedis you bought within the month, how much did you buy? Maybe if you buy it at a go, it gives you more relief than you buying it in bits.

“And that is why some would buy it in bits like that and at a point when you come to buy power, they tell you that you have a debt. You ask, ‘But I buy power every day. Where is the debt?’” he stated.

The Assembly Member for Anafobisi, Albert Akanmiim Agariga, played a key role in the efforts to connect the community to the national grid.

Explaining further, he said: “Because at that point, the meter is confused to bill you per your monthly consumption. Because today you bought Gh¢10, tomorrow Gh¢15, tomorrow next Gh¢5. So, the meter will go like, ‘Which one is now your accurate consumption?’ So, the meter will be studying it step by step until the time the meter is able to study you in particular and now levy you.”

“We know it is raining but the ground is still hard. Let us just try our best. Anytime we are purchasing power, let us close our eyes and purchase it in bulk,” he added.

The advice was met with a long sigh of despair at the gathering.

The reaction was rooted in the reality that many did not have the power to purchase power in bulk.

Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/mwbonline.org



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