Update Post: December 9, 2023 8:16 am
The only penalty provided for the crime of electricity supply fraud in Spain is a fine of up to 12 months. It is a reduced sentence if compared with surrounding countries and even with the rest of the property crimes contemplated in the criminal code (theft, robbery, fraud, misappropriation…) that do provide for prison sentences. The fact that the legal framework is more lax means that many European marijuana mafias are settling here, with the proliferation of illegal electricity hookups.
It must be taken into account that in the case of fraud, security reasons also come together due to the risk of fire and electrocutions associated with fraudulent manipulations, which can affect things and people. Furthermore, it affects the community, given that massive fraud impacts the distribution network and, therefore, the rest of the consumers.
In this sense, the criminal punishment for those who steal electricity is substantially lower in our country compared to neighboring countries such as Portugal, France or Italy, as well as Germany. Spain is the only one of these countries in which a prison sentence is not established, while in the rest prison sentences are provided for even in the most basic type of crime.
Illegal hookups have serious consequences: fires; constant interruptions of supplies when temperatures (very low or very high) make it necessary for greater electricity consumption by neighbors with a contract, which adds to illegal consumption; damage to building structures to illegally tap into the network; increasing and armed violence by the mafias that operate in these environments; violence and intimidation against operators who act against the cuts, requiring the support of the police.
Between January and August of this year, e-distribution, Endesa’s electricity distributor, has detected 30,728 frauds with a volume of recovered energy of 442.8 million kilowatt hours (KWh). In the case of marijuana, 1,446 frauds have been detected for food plantations, with a volume of recovered energy of 173.6 million KWh, which represents 40% of the total cases. Between 2020 and 2022, there were 190,000 cases of electricity fraud (150 per day in 2022 alone). The energy recovered through fraud in small domestic consumers (contracted power less than or equal to 3.5 KW) represents only 14% of the total.
Total losses for the system due to illegal electricity connections
The economic valuation of non-technical losses in the Spanish electricity system at the average market price of last year stands at 3,138 million euros, according to sector calculations. Last year, exceptional prices were recorded due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but if the average price of the last four is taken, it would be 2,097 million euros. Indoor marijuana plantations (in flats or warehouses) have grown exponentially because they allow up to four harvests a year and are much more profitable. With the first harvest they pay for the electrical installation and connect directly to the grid to obtain electricity with the security risks that this entails.
In this way, the problem of illegal connections associated with plantations has multiple aspects such as the socio-sanitary, the security and habitability in the affected neighborhoods, the legal and police, the fiscal and, also, the economic linked to the increase in the cost of the receipt of the light of all consumers. Endesa thus works with administrations at all levels and responsibilities (central and regional governments, mayors, Ombudsman, parliamentary groups), State Security Forces and Corps, health institutions and legal experts, considering that a problem of this magnitude can only be addressed. It can be addressed with the collaboration and joint push of the entire society.
How many files for illegal connections does Endesa have per year?
“Our willingness is to collaborate with administrations, associations and NGOs that work in the affected neighborhoods, police forces, legal experts and health and psychosocial professionals to properly channel a truly serious and complex matter,” the company says. The volume of electricity that is stolen to feed the illegal marijuana industry in Spain is already equivalent to the annual consumption of the city of Seville, that is, 2.2 terawatt hours (TWh), according to Endesa estimates for all of 2022.
Last year, the electricity company closed nearly 1,800 files for electrical fraud to power marijuana plantations, five a day. The reinforcement of the distribution network, which Endesa has been undertaking with an investment of millions of euros in the affected neighborhoods since this problem began its exponential growth a while ago, has not allowed us to solve the problem. As an example, in the Northern Zone of Granada, the available power has grown by 226% from 2017 to 2022, but the number of supply incidents has tripled to 155 in that last year. The more power, the more crops.