“Nobody wants to pay the common electricity bill this time. It is Rs. 500 per household now. Earlier, it hardly used to cross Rs. 150 per household,” says G Varsha, a resident of KK Nagar.
She lives in an apartment with seven units. “We are shocked at the common EB bill and are hoping that they will reduce it soon hearing public demands.” Her apartment has common lights, and a water motor as part of the common electrical connection.
With Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Limited (TANGEDCO) raising the EB tariff for almost all sectors in September 2022, we look at how common areas of apartments are dealing with the hike.
What is the current common electricity tariff?
Before September 2022, the common area electricity connections for smaller apartments used to be charged at the domestic level, with the first 100 units being free. The current tariff does not account for the free 100 units.
“A lot of free electricity services for common areas in apartments would be spent within the first 100-unit slab. Because of this, TANGEDCO suffered huge losses,” says a TNEB official, who did not wish to be named.
Bigger apartments with hundreds of units, with sewage and treatment plants, clubhouses, gyms and swimming pools among other amenities already used to pay Rs. 8.05 per unit, which was the commercial electrical charge for the common areas. Now, all multi-storeyed buildings, big or small, have to pay Rs. 8 per unit for common areas.
“We do not have much change in our common electricity bill,” says Rajendran, a resident of a large apartment with the above-stated amenities in Saligramam.
“The tariff hike was decided by TNERC after proper public consultations,” says the official.
However, there was some pushback against the electricity tariff hike in the public consultation held in Chennai in August 2022.
“If people have complaints, then they can write to TNERC. After consultation with the government, the tariff could be revised,” explains the official.
“If the multi-storeyed buildings consist of two portions where families live, then they can try to surrender the common electricity meter, and they can use the individual houses’ domestic meters,” says the TNEB official.
As per the official, the reason for the EB tariff hike is that it has not been increased for the last eight years, and TANGEDCO is suffering a loss of Rs. 1,13,266 crore, as of March 2021. The Union Power Ministry has asked the states to revise power tariffs to be able to borrow more.
How have people been dealing with the rise in the common electricity bill?
SV Radhakrishnan, a resident of a small apartment with 15 units in Rangarajapuram, used to pay around Rs. 800 for common electricity. After the hike, the apartment is paying Rs. 3240. “It has increased by four times.”
Residents of a small apartment in Kolathur, who have been living there for rent, say that their house owners have asked them to not have guests overnight because they may use the water supply more, which could increase the common electricity usage.
“There is a general notion that people living in apartments are well-to-do, and they pay more for EB. However, it could reduce other ways of spending maintenance money- like people may deny rising the wages of service employees in the apartments,” notes Vandana, adding that the employees may spend more than half a day to make lives in apartments easy in Chennai.
TANGEDCO must have removed the free 100-unit slab while revising the common electricity tariff, remarks Radhakrishnan. “But charging Rs. 8 per unit for common connections is not justified. Common EB should cost Rs. 4.50 per unit for the first 400 units, as the domestic charges for individual houses. After all, common electricity is not for commercial purposes but only for the benefit of the residents. This is because Chennai has a lot of small and medium-sized apartments compared to the number of gated communities, as of today.”
“It is definitely a huge hike for small apartment residents. If TNERC was considering hikes, then they could have raised the prices gradually,” says Bharath Ram, a researcher with Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG).
Curbing common electricity wastage will help
“Many flat associations have hiked the maintenance charges in apartments in the city,” says Vandana Vishwanath, a resident of a large apartment with around 570 households from Nolambur. Although she might be paying around the same amount per unit, she is worried about common electricity wastage that might add to the bill.
“Using electricity for amenities is fine. But, I am concerned about the electricity wastage. For instance, there might not be anyone in the gym, but the appliances are running. Then, there are the common restrooms that are lit when not in use,” lists Vandana. “Some service employees seem to switch on all the appliances because they are not aware of the right switches for every appliance [in the common area].”
She also talks about an LCD display board near lifts that plays advertisements, around the clock. “It runs even at midnight when there is no footfall in the common area. If there is movement in the lobby, then the display can be switched on.”
Other gated community residents have noticed personal electric vehicles being charged in common areas. “The EV charging portals goes to the domestic meters, and does not affect common electricity usage,” says Muralidharan, the secretary of VGN Minerva Owners’ Welfare Association.
Going solar can reduce common EB bills
“If we have solar panels as per the rules, our common lighting will be powered by solar. But our apartment builder set up a very small unit of solar to get the completion certificate from CMDA. Now, we are asking the builder to install solar panels for one-third of the terrace area,” says a resident of a large apartment with more than 300 units in Alandur.
According to the Tamil Nadu Combined Development and Building Rules 2019, one-third of the terrace area of multi-floored complexes must have solar panels to get a completion certificate.
Muralidharan also says that their apartment is going to install solar panels soon for common appliances.
Pushing for solar panels to cover common area electrical appliances is not only financially beneficial but also good for the environment in the long run.