I had been invited to moderate a panel discussion on consumer rights in electricity, in the context of a recently issued charter of consumer rights and obligations. This was set to be a ho-hum affair, until the country experienced its third nationwide blackout within the last six months. This resulted in the shutdown of the 900 MW coal-powered plant, which means that the system will be in distress for 4-5 days until they get it fired up again. Since 2002, Sri Lankans have got used to uninterrupted power which they pay a lot. There is a lot of anger. And as usual, lots of unsubstantiated theories as well.
So I came up with these questions as a basis for discussion, announced that we would focus solely on consumer aspects and that no extraneous questions would be not permitted. Seems simple enough. But sadly, not all participants understand simple rules and the need for a moderator to manage time to ensure a productive discussion.
But anyway. Here are some insights gathered from the discussion:
1. It appears that the Charter does not actually include provisions for a nationwide unplanned outage. The objective is to avoid the recurrence of nationwide unplanned outages. But what use is a Charter that does not provide protection for such situations?
2. Until regulations drafted by the PUCSL are promulgated, there are no remedies for business/residential customers who suffer economic losses as a result of problems in the network or outages.
3. Only 20 percent of less customers have given their mobile numbers to the distribution companies so that information about outages can be communicated to them.
4. The difficulties that people reported about getting the electricity subscriptions transferred when we did our research several years ago continue.
Overall, not much to be happy about other than that fact that everyone in decision making positions seems to want to do the right thing. I’d like to see things actually getting done though.