Of the several infrastructural problems in the country, the one from power is today the most intractable. In its 41 years of existence as a public power utility, from National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) to its transformation to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), following a divestment by the federal government in 2013, nothing has changed for good in terms of power delivery in the country.
Actually, it can be said that power management in the country has gone from bad to worse, in both billing and power availability, following the privatisation that saw NEPA, broken to 11 power distribution companies, DisCos, six power generation companies, Gencos and one transmission company, Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN, controlled by the federal government and operated by Manitoba Hydro International Limited, a Canadian firm under a management contract.
With the privatisation, electricity consumers were subjected to increased power tariff in February 2016, following the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission’s (NERC), set of new tariffs for the period covering 2015-2024, in which different categories of consumers in the different DisCos franchises now pay different charges with the unit cost at N31.58k/kwh.
For instance, the tariff for residential consumers served by Abuja Electricity Distribution Company was increased by N9.60 per kilowatt/hour (kWh), while that of consumers in the same category covered by Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company was increased by N8. That of Eko Electricity Distribution Company was increased by N10; Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company, N11.05; and Benin Electricity Distribution Company, N9.26.
While these have been more of tariff on darkness, the latest disclosure by NERC which is currently awaiting a final approval from the federal government is that the unit cost of electricity has been jacked up from the present N35.58per kilowatt-hour, to N51kwh.
Last week, the darkness in the country intensified following the shutting down of eight thermal stations within just two days. Though it was termed collapse of national grid, the national darkness was simply as a result of rupture of a major gas pipeline infrastructure that connects Ihovbor, Azura, Omotosho, Geregu, Olorunsogo, Sapele and the Egbin power stations and a shutdown of Afam VI Power Station over gas issue with Shell. A similar collapse had happened earlier in January this year, affecting Egbin, Olorunsogo NIPP, Olorunsogo 338MW, Omotosho NIPP, Omotosho 338 MW and Paras power stations.
In May 2016, the national grid collapsed five times. In June that same year, it collapsed four times. Several other collapses were witnessed in July, September, October, November and December. In all, 26 system collapses occured that year alone. In 2017, there was no let up in the trend.
While system collapse has become a perennial national embarrassment, the fact remains that collapse or not, an electricity consumer in the country would count himself lucky if at anytime he gets five hours of power in a day.
Industry watchers put the federal government’s power expenditure since 1999 at a staggering N5 trillion or $31.45billion, and all we celebrate from this today is a power generation outcome put at 7000mws by government officials, which in a bizzare twist, is translating to more darkness than when it was 1,950mws in 1999.
Apart from the operational 23 thermal stations, there are three hydros stations -Jebba, Kainji and Shiroro. There are trillions of standard cubic feet (SCFs) of natural gas reserves, billions of tonnes of coal deposits and even greater abundance of renewable energy resources, yet the country has an estimated 90 million people living without electricity. With the who pping amount so far expended on power, it is curious that neither the cheaper coal power generation nor renewable energy sources has had a look-in.
In the real sector and among small and medium scale entreprises and service providers, poor electricity supply remains one of the biggest problems they face, accounting for high cost of production and services, as well as shutdowns.
While the government has thrown money at the power problem without success and saw through a misfiring privatisation, it is time it considered a declaration of emergency in the sector.
A state of emergency in the power sector will mean that all tiers of governments will be given the powers they need to coordinate and execute plans aimed at bringing about sustainable electricity supply in the country. It will also help to source the needed funds and financial aids required to put in place some needful power infrastructure without having to battle with legal encumbrances and red tape.
While an emergency declaration in the power sector has become compelling, the government in the interim must consider an upgrade of TCN’s transmission capacity to enable it evacuate generated power for end use.
While DisCos and Gencos asphyxiate under the yoke of huge debt overhang and grossly underwhelming in their performances, transmission is still the weakest link in the electricity value chain.
Power transmission in the country is hobbled by obsolete substation equipment, overloaded transmission lines and substations, inadequate coverage by transmission infrastructure, weak infrastructure for evacuation of generated power to serve DisCos’ load demand to locations, poor funding for transmission projects, lack of cost reflective transmission tariff and high incidences of vandalism, all of which are government’s funerals. For the cash-trapped DisCos and GenCos, the regulatory body should enforce their recapitalisation for effective service delivery.
While the stop-gap remediations may bring some succour in the power sector, emergency declaration will drastically change the narrative.
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