•Explains why he has no control over tariff
•Envisions a brighter future for power sector performance
Babatunde RAJI Fashola, SAN, responds to these Frequently Asked Questions about the Nigerian Power Sector. Fashola, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, explains that there is a price to pay to have improved electricity supply.
What are the components required for generating electricity?
Perhaps the place to start is to say that the whole purpose of this discussion is to simplify what appears to have become a very complex issue. And first to say that, Electricity is not different from what you and l learnt in our Physics in schools; Energy resulting in alternating current and all of the technical processes. But to say that if you remember the Principle of the Dynamo and the magnetic fields and all of that, that is really what it is all about.
Simply put, the power plants that we have are nothing but very big generators. Power plants are just multiples of the small generators we use at home and just as the generators use fuel, petrol or diesel, the big power plants also use fuel. The fuel sometimes is gas, sometimes it is water where you have hydro-plant, sometimes it is coal. So we just need to understand that we are dealing with big generators, there is no mystery about it.
Let me also say that our energy supply is also behind the growth of our population. Today, in March 2016, we have just about 5,000 MW of power on the National Grid for about 180 million people. Now, we have been producing power since 1960 or thereabout, the old Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN), the predecessor of the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) and the Power Holding of Nigeria (PHCN), was created by a 1950 Ordinance and it started operations in 1951, probably over 60 years and from that time the cumulative power we have generated is 5,000 MW and we got to that a few weeks ago this year. So if you do a breakdown of about 66 years you look at averagely about 75 MW of power per year. And when you look at how our population has exploded between 1950, when it was about 37 million, even then corporate Nigeria as known today had not evolved, the Northern and Southern Protectorate, by 1962, l think we were about 47 million and now we are 180 million.
So part of the problem we have to deal with is how to equitably and sufficiently distribute what is not enough; clearly not enough. But again possibly, and I believe, can increase in geometric proportions if we all do the right things. One year ago, the holy grail for Power was 4000MW. That was what they were chasing, but less than a year later, we are at 5,000MW. So, if we now do the right things, we won’t have the outages that we have and instead of fixing and trying to stay at 5,000MW, we should be moving on to 6,000, 7,000. And probably be moving in leaps of 2,000MW and I think that is where we should start really, to just understand that background that there is nothing esoteric about it. It is more about how much we want it and how much price it is going to take from us in terms of our behaviour, in terms of our restraints, in terms of our sacrifice that determines how much more of it we can get.
What are the features of reforms in the Power Sector?
That was the privatization that the last administration did and it ended in the sale of 17 companies comprising six generation companies called the GenCos and 11 distribution companies called the DisCos sold to private organizations with government retaining certain levels of equity and ownership. But majority interest has been sold to private owners. The only one government kept was the transmission line. The Transmission System is the one we colloquially call the “high tension.” That is the transporter in the whole value chain.
I will now go to that value chain. In that value chain, it is important to talk about the fuel source because it defines the cost of electricity. Today we have power produced from two principal sources – Gas and Water which is hydro. Now before you get gas, you will either get it directly from production, which is called associated gas or from natural gas fields that has no association with oil. So you need to set up a gas production and processing facility to set up. That is a very big machine that you must raise money in order to construct. People must understand this. After you have produced the gas, you must now pipe it out and pump it into the generator. It is like building your fuel tank at home and now using pipe to connect it to your generator.
From the time the gas is going out, there is a meter saying how much gas I am sending to you the generator owner. At the point of intake, when you are receiving the fuel, which is the gas, you also have a meter measuring how much you are receiving. So just as your generator at home is measuring how much fuel it can take, it is measured because you have to pay for that fuel. And when you use it and turn the machine on to produce energy, when you are sending it to a transmission company, the transporter, there is also a meter at the generation end saying, “Ï am sending you so much power”.
So, he too knows what he is carrying. And when the transmission system is receiving it, it is also measuring and saying, “0 l got 10 “, and then it is delivering it to the DisCos. At the point the DisCos take the Power in, they too have meters which measures how much was received. The DisCos may say, you said you sent me 10MW of Power, l received 9.8 and that’s what l am going to pay for. It is now the Disco at the last end that does the hard business of distributing to hundreds of thousands and millions of homes.
At the point when the DisCos are pushing out Power from the substations, if you go to those substations, you will see meters of what is going out from each substation as bulk power and then it is metered at the transformer end into our individual homes so that it can be measured, the money collected and paid back to everybody.
Now, the impression has been created, perhaps, that the DisCos collect all the money. It is not true. The maximum that the DisCos collect is about 25 or maximum 30 percent of what they collect from consumers because they must now pay the transmission company, they must pay the generation company and they must pay the gas company. Once there is a default on that value chain, the power system is in trouble. Because there must be continuous supply of gas and continuous wheeling of energy. So if you are an operator or a transporter in that system and you don’t get paid will you continue to render service?
This is the reform that had taken place. Will it work? I believe it will work. Does it have challenges? It does have challenges and this is not the best that could have been done. But I don’t want to bemoan yesterday. I want to deal with today. I want to plan tomorrow from today. That is why I am going around from one power plant to another. I have been to Kainji and Jebba hydro Power Station, I have been to Egbin Gas Power Stations, I have been to the old Oji River Power Station which used to run on coal. It has been dismantled now. There are still many more to see, l have been to the major transmission Stations across all the six states in the North Central area of Nigeria. I have been to them and my learning still continues because I need to see what I am employed to manage, I have heard about it in the briefings now I am going out to see and what I am telling you now come from what I have seen, what I understand and what I am still learning more of. Some of the people who come to speak without visiting some of these Stations, without knowing how they work, I wonder how our people find them credible and believable and I will address some of those comments as we go on.
Power is a capital intensive venture that requires foreign investors. Why is government not looking in this direction?
Power is too strategic, just like fuel, to leave entirely in the hands of foreigners. And as a matter of National Security, we can’t leave all of our power to foreign investors. They can play in the environment as they already are, there are investors from different parts of the world now. But listen, Power is a strategic security asset. That is one side of it, the other side of it is that, we complained that most Nigerians don’t invest in their country, they keep their assets abroad; they have invested here now and we must give them some support. We must give them some token acknowledgement. They could have refused to invest at all or they could have even taken their money abroad.
When you look at economies like the United States today, you can’t talk about the prosperity of their economy without talking about people like Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, the Carnegies and so on that built that economy. They built the first oil wells, the first rail lines, the steel plants and other big projects. J. P Morgan financed the production of electricity although he is much more known for Banking and Finance. And l think that, in my own little way I am beginning to see that generation of Nigerians beginning to emerge, funding infrastructure, strategic national assets and venturing into entrepreneurship. That is my sense of it. Now the interesting thing is that in the last few weeks there has been enormous appetite for investment in the power sector. International brands that I worked with when I was Governor have come and they are seeking to invest in buying equity in some of the existing distribution companies and generation companies. That means Capital is coming into the Sector.
Also some people are wrongly directing proposals to government to supply electricity accessories. Such proposals should be properly directed to the GenCos and DisCos and not to government what government does now through TCN is building transmission lines. For those who want to generate power, their proposal and license applications should be directed to NERC. We are now just supervising the architecture of power. But indeed there is a lot of appetite for investment in the power sector.
We just approved about 14 different solar projects to generate a combined capacity of 1,286 MW and that is the biggest aggregation of solar project that the country has ever undertaken but those projects would not be delivered for another 12 to 18 months depending on how quick they come through with the agreement on tariff and the price which has made it difficult to close the agreement. I think it is important for the information of the public, to underscore that when you get a license to generate power, the journey has just began. If you are using Gas, you have to close agreement to guarantee the supply of gas otherwise you will have some of the projects we have today in Geregu Omotosho, and Olorunsogo where the gas is not enough because it wasn’t well planned.
NERC and NBET now insist that they must see the agreement for the purchase of gas before they sign the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). Once this is signed it is almost a certainty that the plant must be built. Once you take the PPA to the bank you get money because it means there is a guaranteed purchaser who is ready to take the power. It was PPAs that we used when I was Governor to build all those plants for our Water works; for Lagos Island, for Lekki, for the Free Zone, for Mainland in Ikeja and for the hospital and all of that. Once you signed a PPA, take it as done that project will happen. In an environment where there is not enough gas, where there is inadequate price, you won’t sign a PPA, and once you don’t sign a PPA, there is no power project. It is important for people to understand this as well. But what we are trying to do is to reduce the time frame in which this is done.
Perhaps this should take me to the issue of location of the Power production facility to the source of power fuel. It is a very important issue. Once the generation plant is far from source of fuel what it invariably means is that the cost of that power is bound to go up. We have an Energy Policy that we met but there is no Energy Mix. That is what I am working on now, to develop an Energy Mix because we have many sources of fuel. We have solar in the North and what we are doing now is to find the most prolific Solar area of the North and I think it is looking like Jigawaand Kano where the irradiation is at the highest and classify that area as our solar belt. We would get land there from those states and know that our solar development for the next 15, 20 to 30 years will come from that place, put more solar manufacturing plants in that area and this way we reduce the cost. It is much more efficient for us to plan a transmission programme that evacuates all the solar from one place.
We are looking at the Middle Belt, and North Central for the most prolific area for coal production. As you would also see, that area and parts of the Northeast in areas like Taraba will have a mixture of some solar and hydro because of the projects that are coming there like Mambilla, and you already know about Kainji, Jebba and Zungeru, which is under construction now, in Niger. The Energy Mix in that area will be a combination of solar, hydro and some coal. For down South, in the South South and South West, it will largely be gas. In parts of the South East it will be a combination of gas and coal because the mines in Enugu still have their historic capacity which my colleagues in the Ministry of Solid Minerals are looking at. So once that Energy Mix is completed which should happen before the end of the second quarter this year, it is easier for investors to then know that if you want to do gas stay here, if you want to do solar, stay here and so on.
So all the transmission problems that we have had in the past will go away because it is now planned. This will affect pricing because if you put a Gas Power Plant in any part of the North today and you have to pipe gas from the South over 500 to 700 or 800 kilometres, the law says that for you to arrive at the tariff, it must factor in your investment and profit. So that, will include cost of the pipes and power. That’s going to be a high tariff. It would have been better if you build a plant in the Gas location in the Niger Delta and you transport the Power through transmission. Transmission is actually cheaper than pushing gas over 700 kilometres. This are some of the errors made in the past that we don’t want to repeat. Thankfully they are not many.
If the Government has sold the DisCos and GenCos, why is it still in charge of increasing tariffs?
Let me say first that as Minister, I have no power over tariff. Any interference that I make on tariff would be an unlawful one. I have no powers over tariffs, but an opinion and I think it is important to make that point. The authority vested with deciding tariff matter is the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). It was created by the 2005 law which the people of Nigeria, through their representatives passed and I think it is a good law. The power to review tariff is vested in provisions of that law. Of course, they will not set tariff without notifying the Ministry.
The important thing to say about this last tariff is that when privatization took place, the last administration knew that they were not doing market tariff. It is important to say this and I think they should have been honest and open with Nigerians to say this is the price. But they sought to inch the price along, especially because of the advent of elections. And so people had already began to get an impression that tariffs were just going up every time. So instead of taking us to that tariff once, they were inching us towards it. So the impression was created that the thing was going up every day. So I understand the frustrations and the reactions that trailed the last tariff.
But there are two broad lines between the two tariffs. The old tariff was going to continue to go up. How did I know? I was the first person to oppose the review of the tariff when I was briefed. Why are you reviewing upward? Why can’t we have Power? These were my initial reactions when l first became Minister. Then, I was taken through all that had happened before, in my opinion and I saw in fact that the tariff was reviewed upwards but was reversed by the last administration because of the elections and during that reversal liabilities had accumulated; about N200 billion liabilities had accumulated.
In order to validate what they were telling me I called a meeting of all the DisCos and the DisCos took me through all the challenges that they were facing. It wasn’t that they were without blame, but these were the realities and if we kept the tariff going like that, every two years, Nigeria would be indebted to them to over a trillion Naira for an asset we had sold. So we were going back to an era of subsidy for people who are supposed to be operating commercially. I couldn’t recommend that. If we had a trillion Naira to spend on Power why didn’t we give it to PHCN. If we had done that we won’t be where we are today. So this was what changed my thinking, because without a doubt as I have always told people there is problem with gas. Gas production for local use was low because the price was not right. Local gas use was selling at $1.30 and for export it was $4. If you were producing gas where would you sell it? So we needed to raise that price to get more gas to our idle power plants. So by the time I became Minster that decision had been made to add two dollars to the price of Gas to take the price of Gas to $2.50 and to allow for 80 Cents transportation which came to $3.30 from $1.30. If gas was the major material for producing power, how sensible is it to expect that the major component, the palm oil that you would use for cooking your soup, the price would go up and the price of your stew would not go up. So that was the basis when l surrendered my objection to tariff review.
As l said, l have no authority but l have an opinion and l saw that this tariff, as challenging as it might be, was really the driver for gas. It has become the incentive to supply gas; if we get more gas, we will get more power. How did we reach 5,000 MW? We haven’t built any new plants, we just got more gas into the existing power plants and the more gas that comes, the more power we’ll get. We still have power plants in Geregu that has six turbines, only two are working; four are idle. Each one of them has 115 MW of power to produce, so that’s 460 MW of power idle. Omotosho is running at half speed, Olorunsogo is running at half speed, the old Lagos IPP built by Governor Tinubu now managed by AES is lying fallow in Lagos, 240 MW, no gas. So if the price of gas is not right, you won’t fire those plants. It’s that simple. That was why, it made sense to me to support it but the decider was NERC, not me.
With the increase in tariff will Nigerians now have stable Power?
There is still a lot of work to do. What I can tell you is that if we can get the cases out of court against the tariff, we get the cases out of Parliament against the tariff, because I believe that business men like to deal with their regulator not with politicians, they understand business rules they don’t understand political rules, then you create stability in the market. Business men are confident; they know that the game won’t change. They will take position and in that way, you will see first incremental power. If you don’t have incremental power, moving from 5,000 to 8,000 and upwards like that you can’t equitably distribute what is not enough. The logic behind it is like ten people are thirsty and there is one bottle of Ragolis water and they ask the seller to buy more Ragolis water when the cost of production has increased and they are not ready to pay for the difference, they won’t get enough Ragolis water to quench their thirst.
Electricity is compounded by the fact that you cannot store it. Once it is produced, it must be used. But the more power we produce the more stability we will see. I can guarantee that but I cannot guarantee that people will not go and cut gas lines. I can’t guarantee that people will not go on strike and go and shut down distribution companies or transmission facilities or the Control Centre in Oshogbo because they want some of their colleagues to be kept at work. Is it profitable to discomfort a whole nation in order to protect 200 people? Because that is what happened in Ikeja DisCo.
If there is a dispute about policy in the NNPC about restructuring, is the answer to a welfare issue that can be negotiated, resolved or even litigated upon in a court or before an arbitration panel a shut down? Instead of choosing those options, the chosen option was to shut down the gas pipelines. As a result, 13 generation plants were shut down. Was that the best answer? I can’t guarantee people’s behaviour. So it is actually the people who are supposed to be producing the energy that are shutting down production in both the gas companies and DisCos. It is not the President or the Minister. So we need to have a rethink about the productivity of that workforce. What are they doing? What are they contributing to our national productivity? Because, as I said, I am a lawyer and I do not know about the technical side of electricity except what I am learning. But you know what; very highly educated engineers like Engineer Makoju and Prof. Barth Nnaji have operated in this Ministry. It wasn’t that they were not good enough; it was because of some of these attitudes.
So, as far as technical capacity lies, we have it. In terms of technical capacity, Engineer Makoju can fix things but he cannot run a power plant on his own, people were employed to do that. I know that Prof. Barth Nnaji knows much more about gas than me but he won’t operate a gas pipeline on his own. The job of a Minister is to coordinate all these activities together in order to engender productivity. If there was a war today, President Buhari, with all his military might would not be the one to carry the gun. His role would be to coordinate. So that is the productive force. What are we getting out of it? That is a question we need to ask. It is, therefore when we all sign up for qualitative and uninterrupted power supply that we can then guarantee what you are talking about.
Will the Power sector not be better off with the spread of metering and bringing more consumers into the meter net than increasing tariffs?
Deregulated, privatized, regulated; they are terms of art. The real purpose is to allow business operate on a commercial basis, in order to create competition, in order to engender productivity. Now meters in electricity production are not as freely sold as the readily available telephones, because there are codes, there are standards, and because of safety as well. Improperly installed meters may become a potential source of danger- fire; using cheap meters can cause accidents. There is a regulatory agency which regulates the types of meters you can use. Installation of meters is a very technical things because the Operators are saying that some people even by-pass their meters.
But what is the meter when stripped of its technicalities? An electricity meter is basically just a measuring device to measure how many units of power you use. Meters on a basic level are comparable to measuring devices such as fuel pumps, plastic water bottles and mudu cups for measuring garri. But we can’t leave meters without going back to tariff.
We have about 180 million people. But all the DisCos combined have just about six million consumers in their database combined for Nigeria. Are you telling me in reality that it is only six million people that use electricity in Nigeria? So you can imagine the number of people that are using electricity that is not measured, that is not metered, that is free. Out of that six million that they have, they have metered about three million, inherited and added on. So there is still a gap of close to 50 percent of that six million that need to be metered. Now, in deciding that tariff what did we seek to achieve? It was to say, “stop giving people fixed charges, it’s unfair… Take it out,” because there is no fair basis for doing so.
In deciding tariff again what people must understand is that consumers are classed in different categories. R1, for example, is the most vulnerable class of consumers, their tariff is about N4 per kwh or something like that. It remains unchanged. It wasn’t changed; there is a protective policy for the poorest of the poor that if we get power to them they must not pay more than this. These are people who use not more than a light bulb and radio. They don’t have fridge or any big appliances. Then there is R2 one phase; these are people who have the basic one fridge, television and radio. Then there R2, 2 phase and R3, these are those with big appliances, DSTV, air conditioners and all of that. Those are the people whose tariff really went up because they form the real bulk of those who pay for electricity. When you flip it around, it is almost like a type of cross subsidy, let those who can afford pay more and let the poorest of the poor stay where they are, don’t change their tariff.
Then we removed, through NERC, the fixed charge, don’t pay the fixed charged any more. We now told the DisCos “If you get this new tariff, if anybody complains that his bill has gone up, and he disputes that bill, that person is only liable to pay his undisputed last bill”. You cannot say because your bill has gone up so you won’t pay; pay your last undisputed bill so we know you are complaining in good faith; you are not trying to game the system. From that point on, the DisCo cannot disconnect you. If he insists you used the power, let him come and prove it. The only way to prove it is to measure it. That was the first incentive to force the DisCos to meter. But we also had to give them the incentive because people should not forget that meters cost money.
On the average, some of the DisCos that I know used to have about three to four hundred thousand consumers that they have to meter and given some of the numbers that I have seen, those run into no less than seven, eight to ten or 18 billion Naira to cover. You don’t keep that kind of money in your pocket, you must go to a bank. Now if a bank wants to lend you that kind of money it wants to see that you can pay and if you are doing it with the old tariff clearly no bank will lend you money because it is an unsustainable business.
One of the examples I use is the person selling iced water and the price of ice block has gone up and you say he can’t increase his price but must go and buy more bottles, to sell to who? He won’t recover. That is one thing people must understand about the philosophy behind the tariff.
And the other point I want to make is that many of us have generators and we also have inverters. The combined cycle of our inverters and our generators does it produce 24-hourelectricity? It does not. Your inverter can only run for about eight hours and so can your generator unless you want to kill it, and that is 16 hours out of 24; you still have eight hours gap. If you combine the cost of the generator, the cost of the inverter and the diesel to power it as well as maintenance cost, how much does it add to, to generate 16 hours of electricity? And then we expect somebody to generate 24 hours of electricity at a cheaper price. That is one way to look at it. And if you cannot do it yourself at a cheaper price, is it fair to ask someone else to do it at a price cheaper and a longer period. That is one side of the coin. The other point and about increasing power is that the old tariff did not allow people to buy power at premium except you were a government agency which was what we did in Lagos. So if for example my diesel costs about N50 a week and I have someone who could give me power at N30 a week and public tariff is about N24 a week, there is no way I can’t take that power at a premium because it is still cheaper. But the old tariff did not allow that. It fixed everybody at the cap. But in the new tariff, we recommended that they should have willing buyer and willing seller. What that would have done if it hadn’t been challenged in court was that it would have allowed the embedded power that people were asking for to take root in various communities across the country in such a way that those who wanted premium power would take premium power, free off the Grid for those who did not want premium power.
But again people have said no; perhaps they did not understand. This was a tariff order that was more friendly ultimately to the consumer. And as I said, the old tariff was going to be going up but this new tariff would be coming down in 24 months on a progressive basis.
Now I also wish to make this point and I shouldn’t lose the opportunity. I have said that the R1 consumers were protected and so on; but we have heard allegations that the Tariff was increased by 45 percent. That is not correct because the price of power is not exactly the same in e very DisCo just as the price of garri is not the same in every state. So if the amount is not the same can you increase them with the same amount uniformly?
How is tariff derived? Tariff derivation starts from the Discos and not from NERC. Each DisCo must hold consultations in its operational area with stakeholders. The law did not say who are the stakeholders but the law did not mention Labour. But each DisCo must now file a return to NERC because NERC is now the referee to say, “Oh you said you consulted people, we want to know who attended. They look at their records, they ask for video recordings and make sure that it happened. And I saw their reports. The interesting thing was that representatives of Labour were present at those disco meetings. May be not in enough numbers but what is enough numbers is a matter for debate. Did they consult? Yes. They issued advertorials as required, in radio, some used radio and television, some used radio, TV and newspapers and some used only newspapers. Once the publication has been made, did we respond? Were we sufficiently educated? I think these were the issues that went on and we saw the classification of people that went there. I saw in their report representatives of organized labour who attended the meetings and signed with their names and email addresses and telephone numbers.
So some of the things that have been put in the public are false because there is documentary evidence to show that there was consultation. Was there enough consultation? We can continue to debate that, nobody is ever guilty of over-consultation. If you want to get opinion of everybody in a community you do poll sampling.
You don’t speak to everybody in order to get opinion about a poll and that is the whole idea about that. There is also a provision in the law that anybody who is not satisfied with the tariff pronounced by NERC can file an application to NERC asking for a review. The law didn’t say you should go and protest or go to Court or Parliament.
The law says you should go back to NERC which is obliged to review it. So all of us must become familiar with the consequence of this reform. But in order to close this part, and it is the most important part of the discussion, is that it is the tariff that gives stability to distribution, to transmission, to generation and to gas production. If you don’t have that stability, if you have all the generation capacity, the distribution companies won’t take power, just as you have heard, some are rejecting power because they can’t sell it. And once it has been sent to them, it cannot be stored and they can’t wheel it on. That was why I expressed my opinion and appealed to Nigerians, let’s support this. I think it can work.
Today, NERC has issued over 100 licenses for power generation but if the tariff is not right, they won’t translate to power plants. If we allow this stability to stay, I am convinced from what I have seen so far, there can only be incremental power because power is the real business now that everybody is interested and once Nigerians are interested in doing something they don’t lose, they don’t give up. They have this energy. You will see the penetration we have achieved with GSM. Even those we met ahead of us we overtook them. So that is why I am optimistic. But we must set the ground rules.
With widespread complaints relating to issues of load shedding, ageing or non-existent transformers in some areas and estimated billings: Why is there poor customer service instead of improved service in the power sector ?
We have talked about how long privatization has taken, nearly two years. I’ve talked about the transition in knowledge and capacity. Most of the power plants are very old. Most of the transformers are very old, 30 to 40 years and they are being refitted slowly.
I was in Jebba Hydro Power Plant which was built and commissioned by President Buhari when he was Military Head of State. Part of the maintenance schedule for Jebba was a full turn around service scheduled every six years after commissioning. It was not done until 2013, almost 30 years later, so how do you expect that to deliver efficient power?
The same thing happened in Egbin, turbines were down; parts were being cannibalized and so on and so forth. At Oji River Power Station, after cannibalizing the old coal plant one turbine at a time, in order to save the other turbines, the whole system finally collapsed and somebody suggested that it should be scrapped.
So that is what the businessmen have bought. In the same vein, similar to the same backbone that the GSM operators had of 250,000 lines prior to expansion to the current 100 million lines.
So that’s another analogy. So you will have epileptic power supply from time to time until all the equipment is refurbished, changed, upgraded and more power is built in. But as I said, the focus is incremental power. Now why is that important? It is important because all over the world, machines and turbines break down. The reason you do not notice them in those parts of the world is that they have enough and they have redundancy.
When one is down they switch to another because they have enough and they have time to carry out routine maintenance on the broken down machines. If you have only one generator in your house, it will not generate power for you while it is being maintained if it breaks down. If you have two, you have a backup. This is just a context for you to see all of this.
But customer service must improve. At our meeting in Enugu I said to the DisCos “you have to lead this reform now by taking ownership. You have to have complaints officers that people can reach to explain why they could not have service and how long they have to wait to get it”. That is customer service. They can wait out a problem if they know what the problem is and how long it will take to solve it. But it becomes frustrating if they do not know what’s going on.
They need to open more customer service outlets just like the TELCOS have done. Some of them are already opening up portals on the internet which we must also use because they are trying to cut cost. The more customer care centres they open the more rental they pay and you see when they are going to pay rent nobody wants to accept one year rent they all want 3years rent in advance.
So these are part of the cultural issues that you and I must also change because they can’t build all of those facilities, they will need to rent. Well, I am sure that their business will be assisted if they see someone who will accept 6 months rent rather than 3years rent in advance. But as the equipment get upgraded they will get better. As I pointed out, all of the lines that come to our homes now don’t belong to NEPA again but belong to the DisCoS. As they age they must change them. They must change within that bandwidth of money they get. Bulk power today for gas is about N13.50kobo per kilowatts, N2.50 kobo for transmission to carry it, you are at N16.
The average tariff now is about N24 so N16 to N24 is about N8 and that is the margin of the DisCo to operate its station, get the power to you, to fix broken transformers, to fix your line, to get people to come and repair and so on and so forth. That is the reality. It can be a very profitable business in numbers but it can also be challenging.
Why not use solar and wind for cheap power if the cost of gas is too expensive?
There is a lot of misinformation being thrown out there by people who claim to know, who either have not verified what they learnt yesterday or deliberately seek to mislead the public.
Today, the cheapest source of energy is hydro because the turbine is driven by the force of water to create electricity. Hydro is about 4 cents per kilowatt hour followed by gas which is about 11 cents per kilowatt hour. If you multiply that by N200 per dollar hydro comes to about N8 per kilowatt hour while gas come to about N22/kwh.
Now the minimum tariff for solar is 17 cents which works out to about N34/kwh. How do you index a tariff of N34 for solar energy on people who are resisting tariff of N24? It cannot be cheap after accounting for imported costs of shipping, transport and demurrage. However, it can get cheaper with locally made photovoltaic panels and cells.
As for wind power, upon assumption of office as Minister, even I questioned why we don’t make use of wind energy. The simple answer is that we lack the required wind speed because of our location as a country. To achieve the necessary wind speed of 8 mph as compared to the 4 mph typically available in Nigeria, taller and more expensive wind towers will be required to achieve the same result. If you need a storey building to achieve something and I need to build a 6 storey building to achieve the same result, then I am definitely at a disadvantage compared to you. These are some of the factual realities our experts have not told Nigerians. And so, the answer is again in the energy mix. Take the power closest to the energy and fuel source which will help reduce both tariffs and production costs while making evacuation easier because of an increased ease of planning.
What is the future of Power generation in Nigeria given the current state of the Power assets?
I think that as long as we can excite the investors’ confidence, the future of power generation is bright.
Today, incidentally, I just saw the head of the international nuclear agency who visited to assess the progress of Nigeria’s nuclear power because we are already pursuing, from the previous administrations dating back about 15 years, a nuclear programme.
The plan ultimately is to start to produce nuclear energy, 1,200 mw at start, expanding up to about 4,800 mw as we go forward because that would be, again, the new power for developing an emerging economy because most of the big, global economies have signed up to Cop .21 and the Climate Change obligations to reduce carbon fuel use and therefore nuclear energy will be the alternative energy they will be looking at.
Therefore, we will benefit from the technology as time goes on. So the future really, for me, is a very hopeful future. We can ramp up on solar, reduce the cost, we can ramp up on gas, produce more, and we can ramp up on hydro because Zungeru Power Project is now back on stream. Construction stopped for about two years due to court cases and other hindrances. Thanks to the initiative and dedication of the Governor of Niger State, all the cases got out of the way in order for the construction workers, about 800 workers to get back on site.
So, there is so much opportunity for inclusion and jobs if people just allow this thing to play. But we can’t force people to do the right thing and that is why I have decided that this discussion is important to educate people and to let Nigerians know that it is one thing to elect a government and another thing to stand by your government, through the distance. And I think ,this is the time the government needs the people to stand by it, and to tell all of those who seek to obstruct the plans that this government has.
There must be a continuing ownership of the policy of government. That is the way you give support, and every time your government looks back, the government sees that you are still there, the way you were during the campaigns and during the voting. That is a fuel that government needs to carry on without looking back.
Pipeline vandalism contributes largely to the poor generation and transmission output currently being experienced. What steps are you taking to put a stop to this?
I think the biggest contribution will come from the communities through whose territories these pipelines pass, to take ownership, to stand as security vanguards for the protection of pipeline assets because if the pipelines work it benefits them more. With the best of intentions, how many kilometres of pipeline could any government really police? And they are as diverse as they are lengthy.
So it is a cultural and behavioral remake that we must have, that no matter how aggrieved or upset we are about anything, government assets that deliver power, that support the power system and the economy of the country are not things that we can take our anger out against.
There is no society in the world that I know, as vexed as they may be in Europe, as vexed as they were in the Arab Spring, they didn’t damage their power assets and they didn’t damage their gas lines. And I think that is the message really to us. Those assets must remain inviolate. All of us must protect them as if they were our personal assets. And that is when we can then begin to say we will have uninterrupted power.
No matter what anybody does, once you take out a gas asset, no matter how much power you have, you shut down the system. From the last outage we had now, it takes days to restore the system back because you have to get the pressure back; before you can begin to hook up all the power plants. So it’s like when you have a dirty fuel filter in your car, it just begins to jerk. And when you drain the tank and switch on the engine, clearly you won’t have enough fuel. You need to wait for the fuel line to be suffused with enough fuel for the pump to activate before driving the car again, so it is the same, it’s not different.
What are some of the things you have been able to do since you assumed office?
For me it is premature to talk about achievements; this is a journey that hopefully will take us to 2019 when the government’s scorecard will be assessed. So, I don’t think perhaps it is the best time to measure events. Rather we should measure trends. One of the trends is increased power production and that is important. But there is still a problem as I have said. I don’t want to talk about energy in terms of megawatts but in terms of access; how many more people have access to more reliable electricity? That is what is important to me. The amount of electricity produced is meaningless if people can’t tell me that they are getting it.
But there are problems along the line. One of the things we have succeeded in doing is building the team to begin to interrelate, that’s why we hold those monthly meetings now because as a ministry we can’t deliver power on our own.
We can regulate the GenCos, DisCos and the transmission company (TCN) however we don’t have power over the gas companies as they are regulated by another ministry, the Ministry of Petroleum Resources as well as NNPC. So we need to work with them. So these are the partnerships that we have forged together. At those monthly meetings now there are very senior representatives of those gas companies sitting down with us and taking instructions.
So, some of the things we have sorted out, for example, at the last meeting, NEMSA (the safety agency) had a complaint from a DisCo that their meters were not approved for use. In that meeting we resolved it and within 2 weeks, their meters were approved for use. We have issues with gas supply to one of the major power plants, the 240 MW Power Plant at Egbin in Lagos. The groups are talking now; they have reached an agreement so they are going to the gas company to get gas. That, for me, is progress.
We had the issue of the unfortunate incident of the young lady who was electrocuted in the University of Lagos. When I became Minister, we stepped in because she had a sibling that also had issues and compensation. We have closed on that and for me again that is progress. We have this court case that has been in court for about 13(thirteen) years. Let me put it differently and accurately, there is a contract that was awarded in 2003 for the supply of meters that was awarded by the old PHCN and it has ended up in court. So that is for 13 years we could not supply those meters and people were bickering and fighting. We have taken that case, really, out of court and we are trying to close it and hopefully take delivery of the meters that have been locked up in a warehouse, I think about 300,000 meters or so. Hopefully they will be useful for some purpose, I do not know.
There is a problem with Aba DisCo, by Geometric Power Plant, there is 190 MW there and they are having issues which they were not talking about. We got them to start talking, because if they close an agreement then there is potential to get 190 MW onto the Grid. There is a construction project for a transmission line to feed Alaoji Power Plant and all the way to the South East and the South South.
Now, part of the problem, in fact one problem out of the many on that project, is that there is a telecommunications mast belonging to one of the TELCOs. And let me say this publicly, it belongs to Globacom (Glo). And I say this publicly because the Chairman of Glo must be commended for his sense of patriotism. Because of this, they could not energize that line, and that is one of the problems. There are other problems. And I said “Glo, I know him and I will call him”.
And I called him and said: “Look Sir, we have this problem and I do not know who got there first but it is easier to remove your transmission mast than for us to remove a transmission line that runs over several hundred kilometers. Can you please move Sir?” And he said to me, “Look, it will be done in a week,” and it has been done. So we have cleared one problem and we are moving to the next one. There are still other problems such as procurement and so on.
So these are some of the things that have been going on backstage. We are also getting the DisCos to take on their responsibilities. We have published the names of all of the heads of the DisCos in the newspapers so that people can know who to call if you have a problem in your distribution area. People call me from as far as Borno State. Now, there was a line that was damaged during the conflict in the Borno which we have restored back to operational status. So these are some of the problems we are solving. People call me from Calabar, Warri, Sapele etc. that they do not have power, but people are also not reporting to their DisCos. So instead of coming to me in Abuja, deal with your DisCos in your area.
So we are populating information out about who to call and how to solve complaints. But as they come also, I must commend the Director of Distribution in my Ministry too. As I send those complaints to her, she notes them and is calling the heads of the DisCos. So all of these things are going on but, these are things that should not be escalating to us in Abuja. They should be dealt with at the customer service level in the states.
Consumers too must be up and doing. If there is a fault, go and report it. Sometimes the DisCos do not know that you don’t have power but they are transmitting and distributing power. But again, as they bring on meters, the smart meters they say they are installing then hopefully things will get better. And one of the things to say about meters, some of the complaints we’ve had, and people must just before they get angry, think.
Sometimes when they want to come and install meters, people are genuinely not at home. These are some of the problems. And when you look at some of these mass exercises we have done, such as SIM card registration, we always leave it until the last minute. BVN, we left it until the last minute. So, if the whole of Nigeria has not been metered for 66 years, and suddenly we want everything to be donein one year, how really rational is that? Did everybody get a cellphone in the first 2 years? And yet, the phone is something you can freely go and buy for yourself. Some people still do not own a cellphone as we speak. So, for me it is a progress on a journey, and I am optimistic it will be done.
Three solutions offered by a critic
- Trucking of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)
- Localization of generation, transmission and distribution through micro power plants
- Enhanced stakeholder inclusion to incorporate investors
What was refreshing about this was that at least someone was offering a genuine alternative and it was different from the cacophony of complaints that had characterized the industry. And I say this with respect, many of the commentators just didn’t see anything that was right but they didn’t offer a solution.
Now, the problem with these alternatives, as I know it, is that first of all trucking gas, and I think I read trucking about 500 trucks of gas a day, overlooks the fact that pricing location of the power plant to the gas source is the key to sustainable power.
So, when you start trucking 500 trucks of gas every day, who will bear the cost of that trucking? Because transportation becomes incidented to the price of gas. And where do you put it in the tariff? A tariff we are saying people are still finding hard to accept, and then you want to incident cost of transportation into it.
You see, and when you look at it, that is why in the past, and even till lately, we had the Petroleum Equalization Fund (PEF) which ensures that the price of petroleum products is the same nationwide. It is another subsidy; can we afford to subsidize power again at this time? I am not sure we are ready for it. I think when the market plateaus, and we actually know where the problems are, government can then come and say: “Look, I will carry transmission free as my subsidy”. We can, and I think we will get there. It is premature, the market must play. So that is one limitation with that solution.
The other suggestion I think was the embedded generation. Again, it overlooks the gap between the tariff that I have talked about. So, the only way people can have embedded generation is if willing sellers can sell to willing buyers. Yesterday at our meeting, one of the complaints we received was simply that the people in GRA in Ikeja, Lagos had written to NERC and they had not yet gotten a response. They were asking that NERC approve for them to buy power from the Lagos Mainland IPP that we built during my tenure as Governor, because they felt they needed only about 2MW of power to meet all their needs in the community. So, we will see more of that coming to play once the new tariff settles down because it allows willing sellers to sell to willing buyers.
We also have applications like that from people on Banana Island that we are looking at, and there are a couple of them like that popping up. There are private companies whom are generating their own power and want to offer more power onto the Grid, but again it is a question of pricing. So, that contribution overlooks the fact that one will not happen without the price. It is more expensive to sell small power than it is to sell big power, and I mean that in the sense of coverage. So, if you are selling to a thousand people, your prices are more competitive than if I am selling to 100 people because I am going to sell at a premium. But once those who buy at a premium take their power that is when what they were using from the public power will be freed up for the 1000 people.
As I said, nobody could ever be guilty of over consultation with stakeholders. What we are often guilty of is under consultation and the point is that this is a representative form of governance. So, how many people will be enough consultation? That part of it is welcome, continuous consultation never hurts anybody but if you spend all your time consulting, you will spend no time doing anything at all. And there are times when you think you have sampled enough; you’re right because sometimes to be honest what you hear is more of the reason why it will not work. I am always looking for one reason why it will work so that I will go and try it.
This job can be done, we can have power but it will come at a price, and not just the price of the tariff but also the price of our own restraints. Our sense of understanding that even though electricity works like magic and you just flick a switch, there is a long process that many of us do not see which results to that magical act. And anybody who disrupts that system, really, is not a friend of our country, is not a friend of the ordinary people, is not a friend of the champions of change who elected this Government.