Cost of saving electricity

Cape Town - Ratepayers are saving water and electricity so effectively that it’s putting a strain on the City of Cape Town’s coffers as income from services shows a significant decline.

Executive deputy mayor Ian Neilson said that with domestic users buying less water and power from the city, it became more difficult for the council to subsidise services to poor areas and maintain infrastructure.

While these toddlers soak themselves, ratepayers are saving water so effectively it's putting a strain on the city. Photo: Matthew Jordaan. Credit: CAPE ARGUS

Neilson said said electricity usage was not declining evenly among all consumers.

Demand has remained the same among “lifeline” users, who pay nothing or very little for their services. Commercial and industrial consumption has risen slightly, but not nearly enough to offset the loss of domestic tariff-payers.

“That has been declining very dramatically,” Neilson said. “I think electricity sales peaked in 2009 and have been in slight decline since.”

He said the reason domestic users were curtailing their power consumption was because of massive tariff increases which had sent ripples through the system.

In a double-whammy, advice about how to save energy in peak hours had also reduced consumption.

“The problem is in the peak period between 5pm and 8pm,” Neilson said. “We would love people to reduce consumption in that period, but we’re more than happy for them to use electricity at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

Water usage shows a similar pattern, although not quite as dramatic. With last year being particularly wet, high water users didn’t need to draw on the city’s water supplies as much, keeping their gardens well-watered and their bills low.

“We’ve been losing those consumers who pay higher rates because they’re reducing their consumption,” Neilson said.

“The impact on the city finances is important because we still have to do maintenance and incur fixed costs for the distribution system.”

It’s nothing to be alarmed about yet, but if the decline continues, the poor will suffer the brunt of a stretched service budget.

“As an ongoing trend, it does mean that in future it’s less likely that the council will be able to provide as many free and subsidised services as we do now,” Neilson said.