Thefts of cables and equipment from the power infrastructure were a serious and long-standing problem for CEZ and many other energy and utility companies. In 2010, direct damages to CEZ from thefts of its equipment increased by 96% compared to the previous year. Damage recovery took a significant part of the company’s investment resources that were otherwise planned for upgrade of the network. In addition, thefts led to breakdowns, power outages and inconveniences for customers who blamed CEZ for that. Clients assumed thefts of equipment were not their problem but a private problem of the monopolist company itself.
To address this problem CEZ and AMI Communications outlined a communication campaign for counteraction in three major directions:
- Encourage public intolerance towards thefts of cables and equipment
- Attract the attention of the responsible institutions to the problem
- Initiate changes to the Penalty Code and the law on trade of non-ferrous metals that will introduce stronger punishments for offenders and help solve the problem
CEZ legal experts prepared a proposal for changes in the Bulgarian legislation including stricter measures for offenders and changes in the regulation for collecting and trade of non-ferrous metals. Detailed statistics were collected and main messages of the campaign outlined. Representatives of CEZ spoke with the Minister of the Interior about the possibilities for counteraction and sanctions. The problem was also presented to the Parliamentary Commission on Economic Policy, Energy and Tourism. CEZ also discussed the opportunities for countering thefts with the representatives of the local authorities in Western Bulgaria and the state regulator SEWRC.
Meanwhile an active media campaign was organized:
- 23 press releases were sent to media, which presented the scope of the problem, its negative impact on customers, the endangered security of electricity supplies, CEZ proposal for solution to the problem and specific cases of theft
- 2 media events were organized
- CEZ representatives gave 11 interviews on the subject in printed, electronic and online media
- Two series of exclusive materials were published in leading national media
The campaign had wide media coverage – a total of 338 publications (220 positive, 0 negative, 118 neutral). The media generally supported CEZ’s efforts to solve the problem and 98% of the publications included at least one of the key messages of the campaign.
A public discussion was held, attended by business representatives, the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of the Environment and the Parliamentary Energy Commission. A working group initiated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, including representatives of key ministries, business organizations and consumer organizations, was set up to discuss the introduction of tougher penalties. Changes in the Penal Code and in the trade in non-ferrous metals were approved by the National Assembly in 2011. They led to a significant reduction of thefts of cables and equipment.