Illegal Electrical Connections Cost Puerto Rico Utility $400 Million a Year

SAN JUAN – More than 150,000 customers of Puerto Rico’s state-owned Autoridad de la Energia Electrica resort to illegal connections to access electric service, a situation that costs the firm about $400 million per year.

AEE executive director Miguel Cordero said Tuesday that to fight practices deeply rooted in the Puerto Rican population a campaign involving hundreds of employees of the monopoly power provider is under way to monitor illegal connections.

Cordero said that the illegal practices even extend to affluent sectors of the public.

He offered as an example the 32 irregularities detected in power meters in two housing developments in Guaynabo, an upper class district on the outskirts of San Juan.

The utility boss said that AEE technical personnel recently visited a total of 1,100 residences in the Prado Alto and Torrimar housing developments in Guaynabo, an operation during which assorted irregularities were detected in the power meters.

Meanwhile, the head of communications for AEE, Carlos Monroig, said that the prolonged economic crisis is one of the things that has pushed even comparatively well-off people to resort to this type of illegal practice.

He said that although it is among residential customers where the greatest incidence of fraudulent activities occurs, they also are engaged in by businesses and institutions.

Monroig cited some commercial establishments that have resorted to stealing electricity in this way, including a Protestant church in the town of Carolina, near San Juan, where the AEE teams detected illegal practices.

He emphasized that when irregularities are detected the customers are told and the firm adjusts the contractual relationships with them if they are prepared to pay their debts.

If not, the AEE reports the infraction to a court and a process is initiated that could lead to fines of up to $10,000 and even jail time.

However, he acknowledged that so far none of AEE’s clients has been sentenced to any time behind bars, a situation he said was due to the slowness of judicial proceedings, among other reasons.

The average Puerto Rican family consumes about 800 KW per month, which translates to an electricity bill of about $170, according to AEE figures. EFE

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