Clearly, illegal connections are a criminal offence that increases the bill, but what concerns us about electricity fraud is that they can be harmful or even put people's lives at risk, as well as the consequences for the electricity supply. Therefore, we must all understand the consequences of electricity fraud, how it affects us all and, above all, how to detect and act. Below are the keys to be ready to face electricity fraud.
Types of electricity fraud
There are two types of illegal connections: direct connections without an associated supply contract and activities that involve tampering with the supply connection, which may affect the meter and specific installation associated with the connection. The impact is the same in both cases: connecting to the grid illegally, without proper maintenance and failing to comply with the safety regulations and terms and conditions for use.
Almost 60% of all electricity fraud cases involve connecting to the power lines illegally, so the user connects to the low-voltage grid or lighting network directly. Moreover, other cases involve tampering with the meter, in which the user has a valid contract and tampers with the installation or meter so it does not record the actual consumption.
Electricity fraud in figures
Unfortunately, electricity fraud is a common practice in Spain: through our grid network subsidiary, e-distribución, we have detected about 190,000 cases of electricity fraud in the last three years. In 2022 alone, 55,167 fraud files were closed, which means an average of more than 150 per day.
Also, in many instances, electricity fraud is used to engage in illegal activities, such as marijuana plantations. In 2022 we terminated, in collaboration with law enforcement, an average of five connections a day to power marijuana plantations.
Each plantation consumes on average the same as about 80 homes. In total, the annual consumption of electricity used illegally to power these marijuana plantations amounts to 2,200 GWh, the equivalent of the annual consumption for the city of Seville.
This figure is explained by the constant power requirements of marijuana plantations: the electricity has to be on 24/7. And that is why this is one of the most dangerous forms of electricity fraud: it constantly increases the risk of fire, electrocution or electric shock and seriously impairs the quality of supply.
What are the consequences of an illegal connection?
Illegal connections to the power supply have a big negative impact, as mentioned above, and can lead to risks to the health and safety of people, breakdowns or issues regarding the quality of supply, criminal liability and economic consequences. You must understand the consequences, since they not only affect the person committing the offence.
- Health risks. An installation that has been tampered with may not feature the standard and mandatory protection elements established in the regulations. Therefore, illegal connections can cause electric shock, fire or discharges that can cause very serious damage and injuries and even result in death.
- Quality of supply. The illegal tampering with an electrical installation also has a big impact on the quality of supply. Clearly, the impact on the original flow of electricity is negative, either due to a grid overload, voltage drop or the deterioration of common appliances and installations. It will also prevent the electricity from being supplied properly and increase the electricity bill, in addition to leading to delays associated with repairing breakdowns.
- Criminal liability. Illegal connections are considered an offence under article 255 of the Criminal Code. The three to twelve months fine will be reduced to a one to three months fine if the defrauded amount does not exceed €400.
- Economic impact. In addition to the consequences mentioned until now, we must not forget that electricity fraud has a huge economic impact on the electricity bill of consumers.