In this report, ABAH ADAH, examines the National Mass Metering scheme launched by Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) in Abuja recently.
It must have been a big relief to residents of Nasarawa, Kogi, Niger states and the FCT, Abuja who have been on the controversial estimated electricity billing methodology recently when Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC), under whose franchise those areas fall in terms of power supply, flagged-off installation of “free” smart meters in Abuja.
On 3rd November, 2020 to be precise, AEDC flagged-off the implementation of the National Mass Metering programme within its franchise states and the FCT at Gaduwa Estate Secretariat, Apo, Abuja amidst jubilation by residents who gathered in their numbers to witness the epoch-making event.
In a move to end the estimated billing methodology used by the distribution companies (DisCos) to collect payment from electricity consumers, the federal government had at the end of August, 2020, ordered the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Agency (NERC), to launch a National Mass Metering Programme by which the largely umetered electricity consumers in the country would have smart meters installed for them free.
The estimated billing of customers by the distribution companies, has been generating allegations of exploitation from electricity consumers. Metering of customers is said to be the only way out of this, but for years now, the DisCos have not been able to meter any tangible population of customers as enshrined in the power reform act, a situation that has been attributed to liquidity in the sector.
Hence, NERC came up with the metering scheme called Credited Advance Payment for Metering Implementation (CAPMI), in which case customers had to pay to get their meter installed with a payback plan. However, CAPMI did not succeed, and now a new customer-paid scheme, Meter Asset Providers (MAP), has been initiated by NERC.
This too, some stakeholders have expressed concern about its success in the long run. Some said the cost of the meter is quite high for an average person, as others express fear about possible clash between tenants and landlords in the acquisition of the meter, thus justifying the federal government’s National Mass Metering Programme as quite apt and timely.
Pursuant to the new directive, the federal government has reportedly released funds to power distribution companies (DisCos) for the mass deployment of about six million free electricity meters to power consumers nationwide. The amount released was not made public, but unconfirmed sources say the federal government would spend between N269.38bn and N497.13bn for the provision of the six million free meters to various unmetered power users.
Prior to AEDC’s mass metering flag-off, Ikeja and Kano DisCos had kicked-off.
Speaking during the launch of the meters, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, AEDC, Ernest Mupwaya, who said they had met with the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) earlier in the day, confirmed the release of funds for the mass deployment of meters in Abuja and the other areas under AEDC.
The AEDC boss assured that the programme had been designed with enough resources to meter all customers, saying the federal government who has some 40 per cent share in AEDC has made available resources that would be given to AEDC on a low interest loan so that everybody gets metered within AEDC’s catchment areas.
He said under this first phase of the programme, AEDC plans to install a total of 101, 000 meters free by the end of December. “With this first phase which begins today, up until the end of December, we are going to install 101, 000 meters,” he said.
When asked if the meters are free in the true sense of the word, Mupwaya said the cost of the meter had been built into the tariff which the consumers shall pay.
“There is no payment for the consumers because the cost of the meter has been built into the tariff, so we are going to roll out as many meters as possible,” he said.
According to him, the take-off of the new metering plan implies that “MAP is ending because if there are being installed free, nobody would want to buy again.
He said with the current programme, the company will be able acquire 900, 000 meters within the next 18 months, which will be enough, not only to meter everyone, but also to replace those defective meters.
“Currently, with the ‘flag-off’ of this national free mass metering programme, AEDC will receive a total of 900,000 meters, at the cost of about N23bn, which will be sufficient to meter all customers including replacement of defective meters,” Mupwaya said.
He equally disclosed that the next phase of the programme would be more competitive, and they would ensure that the meters are manufactured in the country, as a result of which the price would fall drastically so that there is value in the economy.
He said in the quest to plug the metering gap, AEDC has over the years embarked on various initiatives which did not make much success.
“Those programmes made some level of success but they were limited,” he said, adding that they however achieved installation of 300, 000 meters.
He admonished customers to use the meters judiciously and desist from tampering with them for selfish interest, as every measure towards detecting and penalising such wrongs were already put in place.
He said the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) had put in place punitive measures for this who might tamper with the meters.
Enumerating the benefits of the metering to the industry and the economy, Mr Mupwaya said apart from job creation through installation and inspections of metres after installations, there would be new jobs for metre manufacturing, logistics and supply chains associated with making meters available in Nigeria.
Besides, he said metering would improve the transparency in electricity transaction which would result in increased revenues that could be channeled into service improvement for consumers.
“Improved Services will support improved economic activities that will impact both informal and formal sectors. This will lead to an electricity industry transformation along with numerous spillover effects to the economy,” he said.
To reap these benefits, Mr Mupwaya urged electricity customers to accept the meters and resist any attempt by unscrupulous people who may approach them, with an offer to compromise the meters.
He reminded them that NERC has put in place penalties for those caught bypassing the metres such that the fines override the perceived benefit apart from damaging the good working relationship with the DisCos.
Speaking on behalf of the residents of Gadua Estate, Elderstatesman and pioneer DG, Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Chief Tom Adaba, expressed gratitude to AEDC for choosing the area as the first of all places to be metered, assuring of maximum cooperation from the people. He however urged AEDC to ensure that the charges from the meters are affordable, adding that over bloated bill is one of those things that make people think of tampering with meters.
“ It is a heartwarming development that we cannot complain that we have no meters, but it is another thing for us to complain of high charges. I do hope that there is a leverage somewhere to take care of that so we can have a moderate rate. The temptation to short-cut will certainly be limited if that can be addressed.
“We need your service and your involvement in the development process of this country, knowing full well that electricity plays an important role. So give your very best and we too will give our best for unhindered flow of electricity,” he said.
On his part, renowned electricity consumer advocate and President, Nigerian Consumer Protection Network (NCPN), Kunle Olubiyan commended AEDC for standing out among all the DisCos in terms of prompt response to complaints.
He, however expressed concern over the tariff built into the meters saying it is on the high side due to the pricing of gas in dollars.
“But one thing we are still pursuing on behalf of the people is that the tariff being paid by Nigerians, is over-bloated because of the cost of gas which is very high. Sale of gas is dollar denominated and there is differential, and we are telling the federal government that we must review the framework on gas pricing methodology.
“If we can address that differential, the better because 70 to 80 per cent of the energy source is gas to power, and the DisCos will always sell the way they got it,’ he said.