In this report, MUYIWA OYINLOLA writes that the Federal Government lived up to its bidding of tackling infrastructural deficit in the power sector last year, even as Nigerians look up to further improvement in 2018.

The power sector achieved a milestone in 2017 when at the close of the year, the nation’s electricity generation capacity hit of 7,000 megawatts with its transmission increased to 6,700 megawatts while distribution rose to 4,600 megawatts.

The improvement has been attributed to increase in gas supply to generation companies, and other deliberate policies of the government which resulted in relative peace in the Niger Delta leading to less gas pipeline vandalism, increase pipeline repairs and rise in rainfalls.

President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday alluded to the progress recorded in the sector in his 2018 New Year national broadcast when he said: “More Nigerians across the country are experiencing improved power supply to their homes and businesses.  However, power remains a concern to this government because too many people still do not have regular and reliable supply”.

“The Payment Assurance Guarantee Scheme which started in January 2016 has enabled the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trader to raise so far N701 billion to assure Generation Companies of at least 80% payment for any power delivered to the national grid.”

He also confirmed that “generation has now reached 7,000MW. On December 8, 2017 the country achieved 5,155MW of power delivered to consumers, the highest level ever recorded”.

While speaking further, the president noted that “Several moribund projects have been revived. Repairs of Afam Power Station added 110MW in 2017 and another 240MW will be added this year through a private investment partnership.”

He also disclosed that Katsina Power Project is now being tested and producing 10MW of power from wind for the first time in Nigeria, stressing that it should be fully operational this year.

He also assure that “The Zungeru 700MW Hydroelectric Power Project, stalled by court cases is due for completion in 2019.  The transmission and other requirements to operate the 30MW Gurara Phase 1 Hydroelectric Plant, the 40MW Kashimbilla Hydroelectric Plant and the 215 MW Kaduna Gas/LPG/Diesel Power Plant will also be completed this year.”

“A landmark project, Mambilla Hydroelectric Power Project is at last taking off. This project has been on the drawing Board for 40 years, but now the engineering, procurement and construction contract for the 3,050MW project has been agreed with a Chinese joint venture Company with a financing commitment from the government of China.  Completion is targeted for 2023.

“As I mentioned earlier, the Transmission Company of Nigeria can now distribute all the 7,000MW that can be generated.  TCN and the Niger Delta Holding Company have added 1,950MVA of 330 down to 132KV transformer capacity of 10 transmission stations and 2,930MVA of 132 down to 33KV transformer capacity of 42 sub-stations including Ikot Ekpene, Aba, Alagbon, Ajah, Ejigbo, Funtua and Zaria”.

Buhari further stressed that his administration is working with the privatised distribution Companies to overcome the continuing challenges of distribution.

Consequently, he stated that “these massive public works should spearhead the recovery and lead millions back to employment. You will recall that it was not until last year that we got out of the economic recession into which the country had fallen as a consequence of past unsustainable economic policies which projected short-term illusory growth. The government is slowly stabilizing the economy.”

The president admitted that the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing is one of the drivers of this government’s commitment to renew and increase Nigeria’s stock of infrastructure in order to achieve global economic competitiveness as targeted under the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.

The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, at a recent summit in Lagos spoke about the inputs that led to the transformation of the sector.

While speaking at The Guardian Power Summit, he submitted that the nation is now benefiting from some direct and strategic interventions by the ministry which are aimed at making the era of black out and erratic power supply a thing of the past in the country.

For instance, he stated that “Within a few months after President Buhari’s assumption of office, power improved and we all acknowledged. We credited it to the President’s ‘body language’

“But the truth was that it had little to do with body language, and more to do with a sense of purpose that people sat up and began to do what ought to be done. In addition, the rains were upon us in July 2015 to September 2015. There was gas supply, which allowed the thermal plants to produce power.

“Therefore, from hydro and thermal sources, we reached an all-time peak power production of 5,074MW before the damage to the pipelines started and we started losing power. We cannot damage power and gas assets and still expect them to provide service to us. It does not make sense.”

He revealed that government took some deliberate measures to address the menace.

He revealed, among others, that government engaged communities that had grievances with the ministry and had resulted in attacking its officials, in dialogue, and was thereby able to restore peace. This was what afforded them to be able to repair damaged gas pipelines. After the repairs, gas supply was gradually restored.

Beyond this, he stated that government also launched Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, which according to him, made power supply of of the five critical pillars; and the Power Sector Recovery Programme, to work out and implement policies and actions.

He further revealed that government also facilitated payment of debts to specific DisCos, and verification of debts to all others; payment assurance guarantee scheme of N701 billion to give confidence to GenCos, gas suppliers and their financiers; declaration of eligible customers, to encourage people to invest in building and expanding distribution asset; and development of mini grid regulations to encourage individuals and communities to build their own mini power generation and distribution facilities.

“The result is that as at 4 September 2017, the available power that can be put on the grid was 6619 MW (the incremental power we sought to achieve from 2069 MW in 2015); the transmission capacity was simulated at 6,700 MW (up from 5,000 MW in 2015) but the distribution capacity was 4,600 MW which was what was put on the grid.

“On September 12, 2017, production of power reached an all-time level of 7,001 MW.

“Clearly this is evidence-based progress, because we now produce more power then we can distribute. This does not mean that we have enough yet. It means that policies are working, but all the problems are not resolved.

“We must continue the Power Sector Recovery Programme to impact the distribution end of the value chain so that we distribute and sell everything that we produce as an incentive to more power production and supply”, he said.

Another factor that has made the feat possible, according to the minister, is the implementation of eligible customers policy which he said would help heavy power consumers who are denied power because of defective distribution to make the investment by building the distribution equipment under arrangements and agreements with the DisCos.

“We are also looking at licensing some private power plants who have generation licenses and excess power, but no distribution license, to grant them permits to willing buyers especially in industrial clusters under regulations made by NERC,” he said.

“Successes so far recorded in power generation and transmission have revealed that the work is far from finished, but the capacity that achieved the success in generation and transmission can demonstrably be transferred to solve the distribution problems.

“Finally, I believe that well-meaning and right-thinking Nigerians will agree, that the Buhari Government has gone way beyond rhetoric.

“We have evolved solutions that are already contributing to GDP growth, and the promise to do more, unlock the power value chain potential for enterprise and profit clearly lies ahead of us, with the successful implementation of the Power Sector Recovery Programme,” Mr. Fashola said.

Not unaware of its pivotal role in driving the nation’s economy, the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing has also assured that it would generate an additional 1,129 megawatts to the current 7,000 megawatts in the country, this year when some power generation projects are completed.

The Minister, while stating this last month at the 22nd monthly meeting of stakeholders in the power sector at Geregu, Kogi State, also disclosed how the feat would be achieved.

His words: “The Azura power plant will give us another 450MW; I know that we will also get 10MW of wind power from Katsina State. I know that we will get 115MW from Gbari and 30MW from Kashimbila.

“From Afam III, we will give 240MW of power in 2018, while Gurara is working to deliver 30MW, as Dadinkowa in Gombe will provide 29MM and Kaduna will generate 215 MW All these power plants do not involve the mini grids and solar systems that are coming.

The minister explained that in spite of the attainment of the current 7,000MW in the country, 2,000MW of the total power was not being distributed to Nigerians. He said it was important to devise means of taking the unutilised 2,000MW to Nigerians who needed power, noting that “we cannot afford to keep power; that is not good for business, especially those who invested in it”.

In spite of the feat made in the sector last year, a lot still needs to be done because like the preside said “too many people still do not have regular and reliable supply”. Nigeria requires 160,000 megawatts of electricity to have uninterrupted power supply all year round.

The Federal Government and Ministry of Power, Works and Housing need to consider the yearnings of the populace and fast track the process of making electricity available and affordable to all and sundry, and in an uninterrupted manner too.

Both the executive and legislative arms should also politics aside and face issues related to governance in every respect, particularly where the issue of electricity is concerned as Fashola appears to have been receiving more attacks from members of the National Assembly over issues that could be resolved without unnecessary media hype.