How often do we concern ourselves with electricity issues? Well, a social media listening exercise reveals that there is a buzz around electricity topics in Chennai when consumers are faced with either interruptions in power supply or unusually high electricity bill.
In the last one month, citizens in Chennai took to social media about 1,634 times to write about their concerns around power cuts and an inflated electricity bill from the TNEB! Nearly 70% of the users posted about how their EB bills shocked them. 63.2K users shared and interacted with posts about inflated electricity bills.
A steady rise can be observed both in the number of posts and extent of engagement between July 29th to August 4th – around the time of electricity payment deadline.
Consumer experience in July billing cycle
About 66% of the social media conversation around the July 2021 billing cycle has been happening on Twitter. Apart from satirical memes, most tweets on this topic follow a similar pattern – A user reports a sudden hike in their electricity bill amount, along with a picture of their white meter card/online account summary which captures a multifold increase from the previous or average electricity bill amount.
While a few users suspect that readings have not been recorded accurately, few others question if meter assessment was carried out at all. In addition to concerns around assessment, most consumers highlight that key information around billing calculations have been left out in their bill alert.
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Posts with a high level of engagement have been outlined below. User engagement on the posts suggest that several users corroborate and add to the claim of inflated bills. Additionally, a few users could be seen sharing instances of their billing issue being resolved.
On August 9th 2021, an electricity consumer from Chennai, posted a picture of his online account summary and remarked that an unusually high electricity bill amount of INR 32,200 had shocked him. The user’s billing history revealed that someone who had never paid above INR 20,000 was suddenly charged over 4 times his average EB bill amount. There definitely seems to be a need for more data around the previous month’s meter readings to confirm/validate the extent of variance.
On July 30, 2021, another electricity user tweeted to the chief minister seeking redressal for his registered complaint against a billing error. His white meter card indicated that the meter readings were not recorded by the assessors for the May 2021 billing cycle. It can be observed that the consumer was thus charged as per the previous bill amount, that is the bill dated March 2021.
How was the July 2021 electricity bill amount calculated?
All of the above call for a closer look at slab-wise calculations as per the tariff schedule:
1. March 2021 – billing as per readings recorded
- Units consumed = 540 (3310 – 2770)
- Energy charges/Current Consumption charges
- 0 – 100 units = NIL
- 101 – 200 units = INR 350 (3.50 X 100)
- 201 – 500 units = INR 1380** (4.60 X 300)
- Above 500 units = INR 264 (6.60 X 40)
- Fixed charges = INR 50
- Total bill amount = 350 + 1380 + 264 + 50 = INR 2044
2. May 2021 – Consumer charged with previous bill amount. = INR 2044
3. July 2021
- Reading as of July 2021 = 5770
- Last reading recorded (March 2021) = 3310
- Units consumed between March 2021 to July 2021 (Two bi-monthly cycle) = 2460 units (5770 – 3310)
- Bi-monthly consumption for each bi-month = 2460/2 = 1230 units
III. A. Bill calculations for one bi-month
- Units consumed = 1230 units
- Energy charges/Current Consumption charges
- 0 – 100 units = NIL
- 101 – 200 units = INR 350 (3.50 X 100)
- 201 – 500 units = INR 1384 (4.60 X 300)
- Above 500 units = INR 4818 (6.60 X 730)
- Fixed charges = INR 50
- Bill amount for one bi-month = 50 + 350 + 1384 + 4818 = INR 6598
III. B. Total bill amount for two bi-months = 6598 X 2 = INR 13196
Amount already paid as per previous month billing method = INR 2044
III. C. Amount to be paid = 13196 – 2044 = INR 11152
Since the meter reading for May 2021 was not recorded, the consumer was provisionally charged as per March 2021 billing cycle. Subsequently, the July 2021 bill involved (i) breaking down the units consumed between March 2021 and July 2021 in half (ii) calculating slab-wise charges for two bi-monthly cycles and (iii) deducting the provisional bill amount paid in May 2021. The variance that the consumer observed between July 2021 bill amount vs their average bill amount arises due to the billing method detailed above: assessment based on previous billing cycle.
The concerns around an unusually high electricity bill amount go beyond the users who took to social media to post about it, early this month. So far, over 14 lakh consumers have contested their July 2021 electricity bill amount.
What went wrong with the July 2021 EB bill?
Tamil Nadu went under a lockdown owing to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic on May 8, 2021. The lockdown which lasted over two months disrupted the meter assessment that is usually carried out by assessor s/meter readers from Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited (TANGEDCO) on a bi-monthly basis.
Given that the May 2021 meter reading was not recorded, TANGEDCO announced that electricity billing for the period will follow one of the three methods:
- Billing as per May 2019 – i.e. For May 2021, the consumer is charged the same as May 2019 (Non COVID period bill amount)
- Billing as per previous assessment – i.e. For May 2021, the consumer is charged the same as March 2021 (the previous bill amount)
- Billing as per self-assessment – i.e. For May 2021, the consumer is charged based on the reading furnished by the consumer.
Towards the end of May 2021, TANGEDCO urged consumers to share the meter reading information for May 2021 via WhatsApp, SMS, letter or e-mail to the Assistant Engineers (AE) or Junior Engineers (JE) in the section office. In instances where consumers did not furnish reading details, they were charged either as per method (a) or (b). Consumers who had to pay their bill for May (2021) could pay the amount they had paid in May (2019) or in March (2021). Similarly those who had to pay the bill in June (2021) could pay the bill amount of June (2019) or April (2021).
What should consumers do about an unusually high EB bill?
Recently, TANGEDCO announced that the bills calculated as per May 2019/March 2021 will be reversed once the consumer provides the AE/JE in their section office with the exact meter reading for May 2021/June 2021 based on their self-assessment.
In case of unusually high bills, consumers can reach out to the AE/JE in their section office or contact TANGEDCO’s 24 X 7 customer care service – ‘Minnagam’ at +91 9498794987 and register a complaint.
The major drawback in this approach to electricity billing is that the onus is on the consumer. To ensure accuracy in billing is one of the key responsibilities of the service provider. By only relying on the consumer’s meter assessment, this method shifts the responsibility of accurate billing to the consumer. This approach is inconvenient for consumers at its best and unfair to them at worst. Especially, considering that not all consumers will be adept in furnishing the exact meter reading details for a given date.
Is this history repeating itself?
In an almost uncanny string of events, the July 2021 billing cycle mirrors the June 2020 billing cycle which followed the state-wide lockdown in lieu of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020, what started out as a series of social media posts claiming inflated electricity bills led to trending narratives around #tneblooting, consumer protests and a case against TANGEDCO for adopting an unfair billing method.
The case was eventually dismissed by the Madras High Court, highlighting that assessment based on the previous billing cycle is within the regulations that outline procedure for billing in instances where meter assessments could not be carried out.
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This billing cycle called for a better contingency plan and alternative arrangements on the part of the distribution company since this was not the first time that the meter assessment was disrupted by a state-wide lockdown. Alternatively, the state should have made an exception for meter assessment and allotted specific time slots to ensure that meter readings were noted down by assessors within the assessment period. Above all, there is a strong need for long-term solutions that can prevent disruptions in meter assessments and improve consumer understanding of electricity billing.
Consumer friendly EB bill information and Smart meters – the need of the hour
A review of consumer accounts recorded during both July 2021 and July 2020 billing cycles reflects that there are underlying problems with electricity billing in Tamil Nadu. The white meter card (WMC) does not provide adequate information for electricity consumers on the billing calculations, breakup of charges and subsidy, among others. Data obtained through an RTI response suggests that although the online account provides more information, only 22.5% consumers access it. Implying that a majority of electricity consumers in Tamil Nadu do not receive complete information around their electricity bill amount. Further, physical assessment of meter readings add to the challenges that consumers face with electricity billing.
A recent study on ‘Making Electricity Bills Consumer Friendly’ reveals that Tamil Nadu consumers face the following challenges in understanding their electricity bills.
In order to overcome such challenges and ensure that disrupted meter assessments do not have adverse effects among electricity consumers, it is essential to accelerate the smart meter deployment in Tamil Nadu and support it with consumer friendly billing information.
Smart meters are electronic devices that record electricity consumption and transmit the data to the network operator. Replacing existing meters with smart meters will enable daily monitoring of consumption and ensure that actual consumption is accurately billed. It will also support better management of peaks and hence stabilise the grid. Above all, in addition to avoiding manual errors in assessment, smart meters help the distribution company reduce distribution losses and improve billing efficiency. At the same time, it enables consumers to keep a check on their consumption and thereby reduce electricity usage and expenditure.
An increase in deployment of smart meters in the state is sure to transform the billing system in Tamil Nadu. TANGEDCO has taken its first step forward with smart meter installation on a pilot basis in T Nagar, Chennai. There is a need to ensure that this initiative is scaled-up and smart meters are deployed in other parts of the state in a timely fashion. Technology can prove to be useful for information disclosure in the electricity bills and ease the transition from a bi-monthly billing cycle to a monthly billing cycle.
**Errata: There was an error in calculating the bill amount for March 2021 in the first published version, which has since been corrected.
This refers to the illustration shown to arrive at the electricity charges payable for July 2021. The calculation which is based on the model billing shown by the Tangedco is wrong. The correct calculation should be as under:-
Reading for July 2021 as shown in the illustration is 5770 units. On this, the March 2021 reading of 3310 units is deducted. Thus the total consumption for the period between March 2021 and July 2021 is shown as 2460 units. Of this 2460 units which includes the consumption for May 2021, for which the amount is already paid, the equivalent unit of 540 needs to be deducted, that is 2460 minus 540 = 1920. Only on 1920 units, the amount payable should be calculated. On this basis the amount payable shall be: 1920 units are for two bi-monthly. Therefore, one bi-month, the unit shall be 960 units. For 960 units, as per the bill calculator, the amount shall be Rs.4816 for one-bi-month. For two bi-months, the total shall be Rs.9,632/= and not Rs.11,152/= as mentioned in the illustration.
The illustration outlines the previous billing method adopted by TANGEDCO. The alternative suggested involves deducting the equivalent units for May 2021, instead of the amount paid in May 2021. This will reduce the bill amount calculated, no doubt.
But, the best solution is to resort to self-assessment where the consumer is able to share a picture of the meter reading from end of May 2021 with the AE/JE. This will result in the reversal of the bill amount previously charged and the consumer will be charged much lesser than INR 11,152 or INR 9,632.
The long-term solution though is to stop relying on manual meter assessments.
We have got a bill of around 16000. When we asked the eb office they informed that it’s for past 4 months. But we paid for past 4 months whatever bill was provided online in there website. They are saying you got this bill because we have 2 a/c. But we have ac from past 4years. Someone help us. On what basis are they calculating such huge bill. We always get bill of maximum 3000. 16000 bill is a shock ..
I will be of help to Divya if she is able to share the details like the Service Number etc. She can leave her mobile number so that I can contact.
To further comment on this it would be helpful to have more information.
Could you please write to the following email ID with a copy of your white meter card – like the one in the illustration?
Email ID: firstname.lastname@example.org