Electricity Consumers Cells (ECCs), an initiative of CAG, started in November 2016 with the purpose of empowering consumers to improve their participation in the governance of the electricity sector in Tamil Nadu. So far, seven Electricity Consumer Cells (ECCs) have been set up in seven districts in Tamil Nadu. ECCs began functioning in December 2016 in the three districts of Tiruvallur, Cuddalore, and Tirunelveli. In May 2018, two more ECCs were set up in the districts of Salem and Tiruvannamalai and in June 2019, ECCs in Vellore and Trichy were added.
The activities of ECCs are as follows: a) advise consumers on electricity issues by liaising with the electricity distribution utility Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Company (TANGEDCO), b) create awareness through outreach meetings and empower civil society organisations (CSOs) and electricity consumers through capacity building programmes, c) promote renewable energy, specifically rooftop solar in residential households and solar agricultural pump sets among the farmers, d) energy efficiency and conservation measures that can be taken up by residential consumers, e) building partnerships with like-minded organisations to work with ECCs to promote electricity governance, energy efficiency and renewable energy and e) awareness in schools and colleges on renewable energy and energy efficiency and conservation.
In 2017, the ECCs attended to a total of 527 queries and complaints. In 2018, the number rose to 1279. In 2019, a total of 1717 complaints were registered with the seven ECCs.This article focuses on our work between December 2018 and November 2019.
Advisory Services: Between December 2018 and November 2019, 799 complaints were registered, out of which 78% were from men and 22% from women. An average of 10 complaints per month is being registered via letters, in person or over the phone. 71% of the complaints received in this period, have been resolved while 24% of the complaints have been closed as unresolved due to the nature of the complaint - either because it pertains to high-value, infrastructure or because they were area-level complaints, involving multi departmental decisions and therefore requiring more time. Also, 5% of the complaints that were registered in November have been kept pending due to delays by TANGEDCO.
(Fig.1.Complaints Success Ratio (December 2018 - November 2019)
Nature of the complaints:
The nature of complaints registered between December 2018 and November 2019, include: a) 279 power quality related - power supply failure, interruption of supply, voltage and frequency, b) 218 service related - new service connection, agriculture connection, temporary supply & shifting of supply, c) 160 infrastructure related - low tension & high tension wires, poles, transformer, street lights, d) 88 billing related - billing problem, name transfer, change of tariff, assessor dates, e) 29 meter related - meter fault, meter reading, f) 25 miscellaneous complaints - street lights etc
(Nature of complaints)
Mode of contact with ECCs:
Consumers are encouraged to visit the ECCs to learn more about the electricity sector. This understanding is required because consumers will be better informed about electricity related processes and procedures, if they meet our advisors in person. CAG has created resources (posters & booklets) to disseminate information about the electricity sector. All these are available in the ECCs. Visiting helps the consumer to interact better with the ECCs and vice versa. Typically, consumers get in touch with ECCs 1) by directly visiting the cell and during outreach meetings and capacity building programmes, and 2) contacting the ECCs over the phone.
In the one year period between December 2018 and November 2019, 567 consumers have contacted the ECCs over the phone, while during the previous two years (December 2016 - November 2018) a total of 805 direct contacts were made by consumers. The rise is due to an increase in the number of ECCs and the outreach meetings in different regions.
Between December 2018 and November 2019, 232 consumers contacted the ECCs in-person by visiting their offices and through outreach meetings, while during 2016-2018, only 133 consumers directly contacted the ECCs.
Examples of Advisory Services:
- Mr.V, a domestic consumer from Tiruvallur district, registered a complaint with ECC Tiruvallur about a meter related problem. The meter continued running even after the electricity was switched off at the mainboard. ECC advised Mr.V to register a complaint with the Assistant Engineer (AE). The ECC also directly contacted the concerned official to rectify the problem. Based on the complaint letter, the AE inspected Mr.V’s service connection and the electricity meter. He informed Mr.V that the electricity meter was malfunctioning due to some technical issues. It was replaced within two days of testing.
- Mr.W, representing a Residential Welfare Association from Tirunelveli district was facing frequent power cuts and power fluctuations. Mr.W. had already submitted a complaint with the local EB office but the complaint was not addressed. The ECC Advisor took up the complaint and contacted the area’s Assistant Engineer (AE). The AE rectified the quality of the power supply in the area to the satisfaction of the consumer.
- Mr.X, a shop owner from Salem, sought advice from ECC Salem on the procedure for change of name in the service connection. ECC Advisor advised Mr.X to submit the requisite form along with the required documents and a fee to the concerned area’s Assistant Engineer. ECC Advisor followed up with the local EB office and the name change was successfully registered.
- Mr.Y from Musiri, Trichy, registered a complaint about his billing problem. He felt that the bill was too high and did not reflect his electricity usage. ECC Advisor advised Mr.Y to submit a written complaint to the local EB office. This was followed up by the ECC. Based on the complaint, the Assistant Engineer advised him to install a digital meter, thus bringing his electricity bill in line with his usage.
- Mrs.Z, Vellore, registered a complaint about malfunctioning of street lights. She had previously registered the complaint with the local body but to no avail. A complaint was registered via phone with ECC Vellore . ECC Advisor and Mrs. Z inspected the area and took a few photographs as evidence. The ECC Advisor registered the complaint in person with the local body. The complaint was resolved in two days.
Outreach Meetings and Capacity Building Programmes:
A total of 87 outreach meetings were conducted by ECCs in various parts of the districts between December 2018 and November 2019. These meetings aim to educate consumers on electricity rights and create awareness on renewable energy, especially rooftop solar and solar agriculture pumpsets. Further, 19 capacity building programmes were conducted to impart knowledge in the areas of energy governance, energy efficiency, energy conservation and renewable energy. These topics were covered by citing examples that consumers relate to and apply in their own homes. A live demonstration of solar panels was given using a solar demo kit (which consists of a solar panel, charge controller, battery and bulbs) to help the consumer understand solar energy.
Promotion of renewable energy
During the outreach meetings and capacity building programmes, solar installers from the private sector presented solar energy concepts pertaining to installation of rooftop solar and agricultural pump sets. These meetings generated interest among the stakeholders and there were several enquiries regarding the procedures for installation, subsidy, warranty, guarantee etc. As of November 2019, 97 rooftop solar enquiries and 41 enquiries related to solar agricultural pump sets were addressed by the ECCs. Altogether, the ECCs have supported consumers in their decision to install rooftop solar for a capacity of 152 KW and solar pump sets for a capacity of 145.5 KW, in total.
Participants who attended these programmes include farmers, self-help group women, daily wage employees, small-scale industrialists, retired electricity board staff, retired government officials, college professors, school teachers, graduates, engineers and electricians.
Building partnerships with like-minded organisations (to work with ECCs to promote electricity governance, energy efficiency and renewable energy)
During this phase, the ECCs Tirunelveli and Trichy teamed up with Selco Foundation to promote renewable energy livelihood solutions, especially solar energy in Tirunelveli and Trichy in a couple of outreach meetings.
The objective of the meeting was to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency (LED bulbs, fans etc) as an alternate, sustainable energy option for small vendors, roadside shops, and farmers. The participants had a healthy discussion about its procedures, payback period and monetary assistance available.
Schools and colleges
Ten awareness programmes were conducted in schools of Vellore, Tiruvallur, Chennai districts on renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation by ECC engineers and researchers from CAG. The awareness programme was aimed to a) promote awareness and bring a behavioral change using energy efficiency and energy conservation by giving simple examples, b) creating solar energy especially rooftop solar with the help of demo kit.
The ECCs act as a bridge between TANGEDCO and the consumers, solving various complaints in a timely manner. It has been a platform for the consumers to get to know their rights in addressing the complaints and other aspects as well. Also, ECCs have reached out to new locations in their respective districts to directly meet the consumers. Awareness programmes on Energy Efficiency and Energy Conservation have helped the participants to change their behaviour and live more sustainably.