Throughout the region the widespread theft of electricity jeopardises investment and leads to price increases.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Ohrid -- 04/08/12
The Czech CEZ utility cuts power to those in Albania who do not pay bills, but consumers often hook up illegally. [Reuters]
The theft of electricity by consumers in the region has cost electrical distribution companies millions of euros, but analysts hope enforcement measures by foreign power companies will change that.
The amounts and methods of theft are virtually identical throughout the region; the methods to deal with the crime and the fines to suppress them differ.
Some consumers steal by manipulating the electricity counters to reduce the amount of their bills. Others use cables to illegally connect to the grid.
"The theft ranges from 15% [of total electricity] during months in which there is reduced use to 30% during months of increased load," Blerina Xhani, spokesperson for the Czech electricity conglomerate CEZ which operated in Albania, told SETimes.
Similarly, in Kosovo, nearly 20% of the total electricity used in the country was stolen last year.
"There is stealing everywhere, throughout the entire state," Elegantina Hoxha, spokesperson of the Kosovo Energy Corporation, told SETimes.
EVN Macedonia -- a subsidiary of the Austrian giant power company that bought Macedonia's electrical power company ELM -- loses 14m euros annually to theft, according to Atanas Kovachevski, spokesperson for EVN Macedonia.
"The thefts undermine ongoing investments in the grids and are the reason for steep electricity price increases," Konstantin Dimitrov, president of the Macedonian Association for Energy Efficiency, told SETimes.
The inhabitants of the Albanian-majority town of Veleshta, in southwest Macedonia, blocked EVN's office building in nearby Struga last June after the company cut off power for two days. They threatened to burn down the building if the company did not restore power.
EVN relented and restored electricity, officials said as much as 60% of the electricity there has not been paid or is stolen.
Dimitrov argued part of the problem is some governments' past willingness to overlook theft. But unlike the time when energy companies were state-owned, experts today believe private companies will not allow debts to remain unpaid.
"Previous practices are no excuse; the states and the new foreign companies should decisively disconnect anyone from the grids who illegally uses electricity, if necessary, whole neighbourhoods, regardless of ethnic or political affiliation," Nikola Acevski, electricity expert and professor at the University of Bitola, told SETimes.
But, Acevski added, power company workers cannot enter certain villages or settlements for fear of violence.
"We intervene only in cases when EVN personnel try to disconnect illegal connections to the grid and determine there is danger of being assaulted," Ivo Kotevski, spokesperson for Macedonia's interior ministry, told SETimes.
"Heavy fines in Macedonia, which range from 5,000 euros to over 25,000 euros as well as prison sentences, are beginning to show positive results," EVN's Kovachevski said.
According to Xhani, "In Albania, we install new meters for those who use electircity illegaly and issue a fine for the incurred economic damage. Also, we provide them a period of one month to gather all necessary documents and register in our system."
If they fail to comply, Xhani said, "we cut them off the network and press criminal charges."