Rockhampton, Australia --- (METERING.COM) --- April 15, 2008 – Ergon Energy, a provider of power to 600,000 customers in Queensland, has voiced concern over the increase in the number of illegal connections its field personnel are encountering during their daily tasks. Utility spokespeople suggest the trend is as a result of the hikes in electricity tariffs; when competition was introduced in the state in 2007, tariffs rose by 11 percent, and a further increase of at least 7 percent is expected in 2008.

Although state legislation provides for fines and even prison terms (a maximum fine of A$75,000 or up to six months' jail) for those caught stealing power, customers continue to do so. Estimates are that as much as A$30 million ($28 million) could be lost this year alone through illegal connections..

As is the case in parts of North America, illegal marijuana cultivation indoors accounts for much of the stolen electricity, and Ergon Energy says these instances are always reported to the police.

The utility identifies possible cases of theft by noting changes in usage patterns, and also relies on information from honest customers. Improvements in communication regarding ways to save energy is also on the cards.