Electricity and gas bills will increase in 2023, said Sami Ben H’mida, Commercial Director of the Société tunisienne d’électricité et de gaz (STEG), who added that the increase has been decided as part of the 2023 Finance Law, but has not yet been ratified by the Presidency.
In an interview with African Manager, Sami Ben H’mida pointed out that STEG has embarked on a major modernization program, the first phase of which will be completed in 2026 and will mark a turning point in the digitalization of the company.
He noted that the approximate invoicing formula will be abandoned in the coming years.
Here is the full text of the interview.
Are there plans to increase electricity and gas bills?
The Finance Act for 2023 provided for an increase in consumer prices for electricity and gas, but this has not been implemented because price adjustments are the responsibility of the regulator and the presidency. However, this adjustment is planned, while the STEG has not yet received authorization to implement it, as the last increase dates back to May 1, 2022. There were no increases in 2021 and 2020, but there was an electricity price increase in 2019.
A number of citizens complain about the inflated bills from STEG and the discrepancy between them and actual consumption. How do you explain these recurring complaints?
Any customer who finds that their bill differs from their actual consumption can, after checking the information on the meter, contact the nearest STEG district to make the necessary corrections. Customers can also check the meter readings themselves and update the bill either at the nearest STEG district or remotely via the STEG website, as well as pay remotely. This application was launched in 2020 and its use is growing year by year. It should reduce the number of complaints, as it allows bills to be paid according to actual consumption.
STEG distributes 90,000 bills per day, while the total number of bills is 27 million per year, which can lead to errors, especially in the meter number.
What proportion of bills is approximate and what is the average bill payment in general?
Approximate bills account for 50%. However, as mentioned above, customers can read their own meters and pay for actual consumption. This is because complaints mainly relate to bills, which is the black spot in our relationship with customers. Contrary to popular belief, however, the bill payment rate is 90%.
So how do you explain STEG’s acute financial crisis?
Customers’ debts to STEG amount to 2.9 billion dinars. However, this shortfall has nothing to do with non-payment of bills. These debts have accumulated significantly since 2010. STEG is therefore currently engaged in a campaign to collect its debts from public institutions and private individuals. Then, given the state of public finances, STEG regularly updates its debts to public enterprises.
Should we expect STEG’s debts to have an impact on the country’s electricity and gas supply?
The accumulation of debt will not affect the supply of natural gas, which accounts for 97%. This is because the Tunisian government has never failed to pay for the gas it buys and is committed to honoring its commitments to its supplier, the Algerian hydrocarbon company SONATRACH. At the same time, in the face of soaring world hydrocarbon prices, Tunisia is working to increase the share of new and renewable energies in meeting its energy needs, which should rise from the current 3% to 24% by 2030.
And what about the Smart Grids project?
The first phase of the project began this year and is due to run until 2026. This first phase, which will cost an estimated €140 million, will see the installation of 430,000 smart electricity meters and 140,000 smart natural gas meters. The beneficiaries will be a sample from STEG’s various districts throughout the country, pending the roll-out of the operation in 2027.
What are the expected benefits of the project?
The Smart Grids will make it possible to do away once and for all with the approximate billing formula, which has been the subject of so many complaints and criticisms, because they will allow remote reading, at the same time as improving billing, with modulations according to the nature and period of consumption, in the morning, afternoon and evening. Subscribers can then operate their equipment, such as household appliances, accordingly, in the light of the direction of consumption.
STEG also expects this project, once fully completed, to improve its financial situation, as many services will be provided remotely, without the need for STEG staff to travel. It will also be easier to track down those who are at fault when it comes to paying bills, and to take the necessary measures against them, such as cutting off the electricity supply.