The new smart meters which are being installed in Gauteng. Picture: Itumeleng English

Johannesburg - The new smart meters being rolled out throughout the City of Joburg are turning out to be not so smart after all.

The Star’s Metrowatch and ward councillors receive hundreds of complaints about peoples’ bills being incorrect since the meters were installed.

Most residents initially welcomed them, believing that meter-reading errors would no longer occur.

The main problems experienced are: the old meters are not taken off the system, resulting in billing on both old and new meters; new meters not being put on to the system when the old ones are taken off, resulting in no readings, so estimates are sent out; bad cellphone reception in many areas results in the remote readings not being sent; some meters don’t work and people receive fictitious actual readings for old meters that were removed.

Councillor Tim Truluck said he has received hundreds of complaints from angry residents about huge bills they cannot afford to pay.

“I have spoken to City Power and they keep promising to rectify the problems, but it is just not happening,” he said.

Roland Solomon, of Blairgowrie, said his smart meter was installed to replace the old Hefcom meter, which had not presented problems over the past years.

“In March, without any warning or notice, City Power arrived with new smart meters, ripped out the Hefcom meter, leaving four holes in my lounge wall, and installed a new meter.

“But since then, I and others I know in the suburb have received estimated readings each month - way over the normal monthly use as consistently reflected on old accounts,” he said.

“For two months made-up readings, supposedly being actual readings, were reflected as being shown on the non-existent Hefcom meter. I am a 75-year-old pensioner, I live alone and use very little electricity.

“I am so sick of Joburg mayor Parks Tau claiming that billing problems are a thing of the past.”

The meters are being rolled out throughout the city, with those consuming more than 1 000kW first in line.

The city did not respond to specific complaints about the smart meters, despite numerous requests and promises to do so.

The city’s revenue department spokesman, Stan Maphologela, said the city had been on a proactive drive to investigate and address the “challenges” on billing accuracy, and disconnections of electricity, and other related municipal services to ensure that there are no discrepancies in the system.

He said the inflated bills were not related to the R200 million the city lost through fraud, and that the city was by no means inflating bills to recover this amount.

“Customers will be billed for what they use, and the city has put in place detective and preventive controls, system processes designed to minimise billing errors.”

Maphologela said electricity was a consumption-based charge, based on a stepped tariff for electricity services, which means that the more electricity consumers use, the more they will pay.

“There are... variable factors that can influence a high electricity consumption bill, such as high usage and seasonality, and incorrect reading, clock-over meters, faulty meters or estimated readings.”

He admitted there had been problems, but said criticism had escalated since January 2011 and had “gathered a momentum of its own, especially in certain media circles - daily newspapers, social networks, radio stations and blogs.

“And, unfortunately, it has turned into a ‘personality-driven’ crusade fanned by certain opportunistic political opposition parties, reporters, columnists and talk-show hosts.

“This has found receptive audiences among readers and listeners with access to the airwaves, newspaper columns and websites.

“It is also becoming increasingly politicised and this trend is expected to grow as the country approaches the 2016 local municipal elections.”

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The Star