Power surge scourge costing millions

2014-05-24 00:00

APPLIANCES at Allan Dyer’s home in Gillitts have been destroyed by power surges seven times in three years.

But Dyer — who is also chairperson of the local community policing forum — is one of the estimated one in 10 KZN suburban residents who are actually covered by insurance for power surge damage.

“My insurance company is hating me — this last time it was my pool pump; my router; even my kettle gone. It’s crazy up here with the surges,” he said.

Brendan du Randt, owner of Winston Park Service Station, said an overvoltage on Thursday this week destroyed software on his four computers — and stopped 5 000 litres of petrol from being pumped — despite having a surge protection system at his shop.

“Claiming from the council will be a waste of time, so we’ll check our insurance cover, but we’ll probably end up just taking it on the chin,” said Du Randt.

Christelle Fourie, MD of MUA Insurance Acceptance, said hers was one of only a handful of companies which covered surge damage, and that the cost to uninsured families could rise to hundreds of thousands of rand per incident.

Fourie said one customer recently suffered the loss of R750 000 worth of electronic equipment in a single power surge.

An overvoltage wave blitzed Bev Coombes’s appliances earlier this year, including her gate motor, DStv decoder and downlighters, following a substation raid in Northdene.

While shopping to replace the appliances at places like Makro and Telkom, Coombes said she found a number of neighbours in the same queues, refitting their own homes from the same power wave. “I even ran into people from Glenwood who had also lost their stuff to a surge at the same time, it seems to be happening all over,” she said.

The insurance ombudsman says companies have reacted to criminal surge damage the same way they reacted to “electronic jamming” of car alarms: with strict exclusion clauses.

Deputy ombudsman Edite Teixeira-Mckinon, told Weekend Witness insurance companies were reluctant to cover surge damage “because it’s not something the insured party can control”.

“It’s crucial that people read their policies carefully, as well as the change notifications that come through,” she said. “Some companies have inserted wording to exclude this kind of coverage, also partly due to the almost random nature of the risk, and because almost everyone is vulnerable.”

Meanwhile, electricity officials from both Durban and Pietermaritzburg insisted that steps were being taken to up the security at sub-stations, including surveillance, alarms and pepper spray devices.

Lelani van den Berg, head of the Msunduzi Electricity Task Team, said a crackdown had reduced the number of sub-station attacks from a dozen each month to five last month, but that power surges remained “a serious problem”.

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