Beaven Dhliwayo Herald Correspondent
THE monthly 200 units of significantly lower-priced electricity under new tariffs for each household meter is enough for an average family that takes care on how it uses electricity, Zesa Holdings believes, before the very expensive tariff for extra units kicks in. But many consumers yesterday were confused, worried and some angry.
One major problem is that so few have been measuring consumption on the unviable low tariffs that helped drive Zesa to the wall and even fewer know where it is easy to save consumption and where it is difficult.
In addition, those with lodgers or high-energy home businesses are badly hit.
These first 200 units still cost significantly more than the flat rate introduced in August of 9,86c for each kilowatt hour, otherwise known as the unit.
Many kettles are rated at 1 kilowatt and so burn a unit an hour, although a 9 watt LED lamp, the brightest in most households, can burn continuously for 111 hours with one unit.
The first 50 units, what Zesa calls its “lifeline tariff rate” are sold for 41c each, with that block totalling $20,50. This is more than four times as much.
As Zesa notes, this minimum is round about what is needed to keep five LED bulbs burning part of the night plus do a reasonable amount of cooking on a two-plate cooker, although even then consumers will have to manage the stove carefully, turning food down to simmer the second it starts boiling.
The next 150 units are 91c each, almost 10 times as much, for a total of $136,50. The two blocks together come to $157 a month.
This total of 200 units goes beyond lifeline, allowing a family to make several pots of tea using a kettle, heat water, iron clothes and do more imaginative cooking on a bigger stove.
“But to keep within that limit will still require knowledge of where significant savings can be made.
After these two tranches of “cheap” energy comes the crunch.
Everything extra will cost $3,67 a unit of one kilowatt hour. A kicker is that the lower-priced tranches can only be bought once a calendar month and must be bought at the same time.
Everything bought in a second purchase in a single calendar will be charged at the standard $3,87, even if the full allocation of cheaper power was not used up.
Zesa warns consumers to estimate their consumption if they intend to buy less than 200 units so that they will not be caught short and have to pay more than they should.
Consumers should also try and buy once a month to gain full value from lower rates.
ZESA public relations manager Mr Fullard Gwasira said the new pricing structure seeks to bring tariffs which cover the costs of generation and transmission, which the company has not had since 2009.
“Thus, the stepped tariff is a system that rewards customers who are conscious about saving power.”
To save money, Mr Gwasira said consumers should stop making small purchases in the same calendar month as they will end up buying more than they require and eventually pay more.
Two large blocks of consumers were worried yesterday.
The first were where several families live together in the same premises with just one meter. The lifeline and other cheaper rations are not per family or household, but for each domestic meter.
So where a group of families shares a meter, they might well have to buy the highest-priced power for most of the month, exhausting their ration of cheaper power in less than a week.
The other group likely to be hit by high costs is that which uses a lot of electricity in a home business, such a welding or catering. In effect their business side will be using power at $3,87 a unit.
Mr Kudakwashe Chikwanda of Ascot, Gweru, told The Herald yesterday that the stepped billing system was anti-poor.
“The stepped billing system is anti-poor and is applicable to a family of three and not for township dwellers where every house has at least four families, each using a stove, fridge, iron and television set,” he said.
“The idea of rewarding economic use of electricity was good, but the letdown is that the billing is applicable to a single family per meter.
“Instead of punishing the masses who are on prepaid, Zesa must use their energies to recover millions owed by cellphone farmers and install prepaid meters for all consumers for the sake of fairness.”
Another consumer, Mr Richard Moyo of Nkulumane 5, Bulawayo, said; “Charity begins at home. Zesa is giving its workers free electricity, more than the 200KWh they want the public to use per month.”
Mr Moyo proposed that Zesa should give its workers the same 200kWh per month, and if anyone used more, then they should be charged like everyone else.
“Secondly, a once off payment of power per month doesn’t make sense as most families are tenants who usually get money on different dates,” he said.
Ms Latiff Carrim, who resides in Emerald Hill, Harare, weighed in saying she bought $25 worth of electricity tokens and was given “only 6 units”.
That means she was buying at maximum tariff and was consequently charged at $3,87 a unit, getting around 6,46 units.
A welder, Mr Wilbert Munyoro who operates from central Harare said electricity tokens of $150 were no longer sufficient for two days.
Some of his colleagues have quit the trade owing to high tariffs and is unsure how they will fend for their families.