There was a slight improvement in the supply of electricity in most parts of the country around the yuletide. However, about two weeks into the new year, the story changed as the entire nation was thrown into a near-total darkness. The managing Director of Mainstream Energy Solutions Limited, operators of Kainji and Jebba Hydro Power Plants, Mr. Lamu Audu, gave an insight into the situation of the power sector in the country. According to him, electricity generating companies (GENCOs) are suffering from unutilized power output; unpaid invoices and non-availability of foreign exchange. In this interview with Emma Ujah, he calls for urgent steps to address these challenges to keep the industry running. Excerpts
The nation experienced an improved power supply around the last two weeks of last year and the first two weeks of the new year. However, suddenly, the nation was thrown into a near-total darkness thereafter. Could you give us an insight into what is happening?
Let me give you a general situation in the power sector as it is today that might have caused the short fall. We have been having issues with the gas supply even when we have the water. At a time, in fact the hydro plants were the ones sustaining the grid.
Recently, you must have heard about explosions on gas pipelines. Even a week or two before that, there was serious short fall in the gas supply and again we ran into that explosion. That impacted seriously, in fact taking out stations like Egbin, a station of 1,320megawatts went down to zero. As at today, I think it is just 110megawatts and the reason is very clear even though they may have technical issues but mostly it is due to gas.
It is a major setback on the grid to the extent that I think today (January 23, 2017, when the interview was conducted), total generation on the grid is 2,929 megawatts and out of which mainstream is contributing about 700megawatts, that is both Kainji and Jeba, because we have a unit that is out for maintenance.
The TCN was reported to have identified low water levels as one of the reasons for poor power supply.
For anybody to mention Kainji or Jeba because of water is unacceptable, it is not true.
What it means is that for the hydro, you deliver 1,000 megawatts combined?
Yes, combined, we are putting out 1,000 megawatts out of the 2,929 megawatts on the grid, as at today.
At the last visit of the Minister of Power to your plants, you raised the issue of Transmission Lines. Have they been addressed?
The issues that were raised by us during the minister’s visit basically concerns us and TCN. There were two issues; one was the connection of a substation which we actually built to service the community, and TCN could not fulfill their own part of the project. All equipment were installed and commissioned. It was just for them to link but they have some issues and that was what came up in that ministerial visit. That has been resolved and the community has been linked to the grid now.
But one major issue we raised with the Minister was the interface problem between us and TCN, to the extent that we are not able to evacuate power, not only evacuating power but safely because the equipment are old and up till today, the two lines, we have are taking energy at 330kv voltage level from Kainji. Out of the two, one is out and I mentioned it during the Minister’s visit, that if anything happens to only functional line, Kainji would be cut off from the grid completely and that situation has not changed up till today.
So you are now depending on one line?
Yes, just one line instead of two. But you should know that that one line is enough to take power but the danger is if anything happens to it, there will be problem. We can evacuate what we are generating today through that line but if something happens to it, Kainji would be cut off from the grid completely.
How much does Kainji produce?
Kainji generates 400 megawatts. This means that if generation goes below what it is now, it would affect the entire grid in the nation. If generation drops, what they will do is to ask the DISCOs to open breaker- that is to reduce the energy they are taking so that they can manage what we are actually sending to the grid. That is what it means.
If the grid collapses it is because they did not manage the system well. There is a way you manage these things, if it is too much, that is if generation is much more than what the distribution companies can take, they come to us telling us to come down. But if it is low to the extent that even if all the units available cannot use all, the only thing is to ask other people to open up their breaker so that they do load shedding. So it does not mean that the grid will collapse. If the grid collapses, it is because they did not manage it well. There is a way we can manage these things whether there is excess generation or there is low generation.
There is a serious issue with gas supply right now, like the gas suppliers are demanding the price in dollars and it is a problem and the companies are also owing them. That is to say within the nearest future we cannot get gas supply unless these issues are resolved.
Yes, there are issues that have to be resolved for the power plants because in the first place, the generation companies that use the gas are not paid, so how can you pay the gas supplier? It is a cycle. This one generates and you don’t pay him, so how can he pay the gas supplier? At the end of the day, the gas supplier says okay you are not paying me, I won’t give you gas.
What the gas suppliers do is that they give other industries who pay but not to the power sector.
What is the situation of the payment of your invoices at the moment now?
The situation has not changed. The last invoice paid to Mainstream was October and we were paid 20 percent, so we still have November, December and now generating towards the end of January. The invoice was over N5 billion out of which only N1 billion plus something was paid for the month of October. Our total unpaid invoices as at today are N53 billion. We have not even added interests because the law allowed for interest on unpaid debt. We did not include that one here.
How much recovery have you made at the plants?
We took over about 400 megawatts at the two plants because Kainji was literally zero. It was only Jebba that was generating 400 megawatts and now we are at 922 megawatts capacity. So at least we have done more than 50 percent. We couldn’t have recovered this capacity without a lot of investments. And it would interest you that a lot of our investment are in foreign exchange
Why do you need the foreign exchange?
Almost 100 percent of our consumables, whatever we use on the plants, the spare parts are imported. We don’t manufacture power parts in Nigeria especially for generation that is specific. You don’t get it off shelve. You have to order from the original equipment manufacturer.
Even if you have the naira today, the naira that is not there, that we are not been paid, we still struggle to get the dollar even when you have the naira, the dollar is not there. And if really the government is serious about power, they should give us concession for the power sector that is what we are asking for.
There has been three systems collapse this year alone; two full systems collapse and one partial within the same month because this is what is providing for all these fluctuations. And part of the problem is that when this system collapse happens, they affect our machines and now Jebba is suffering.
What caused the system collapse?
Up to this week, we have been having high frequency which is as a result of somebody not using the power they are having. That is the only explanation. Most of these high frequencies cause this system collapse.
For you the generators?
Yes, our system will feel it. The problem with generation and generators particularly is that electrical energy cannot be stored. You use as produced. So these machines monitor what they are trying to put on the grid, if it is actually being utilized, if it is not the frequency will shoot up and the machines will see it and then begin to de-load and if the machine is not designed to de-load on its own, it will trip to protect itself from the high frequency.
And by the time our machines trip, so many sequence of events happen within that machine and it causes a lot of wear and tear and with the aged machines that we have and by the time you go through one, two, three system collapses, the consequences are much.
The nation is facing shortage of power supply and you are talking about high frequency or power not being utilized.
I think TCN (Transmission Company of Nigeria) should answer or the DISCOs (Distribution Companies) because TCN is in between the two of us. Why I said TCN is because they are the ones taking the energy from us and giving to the DISCOs but if the DISCOs are not utilizing it they will know better than anybody else. The DISCOs can deny but TCN should have the records to tell us what is happening to the energy that we are generating. Simple question, why has the frequency been high? It shows from the daily broadcast 51.48 instead of 50, which means somebody is not taking the power we are producing while consumers are crying that there is no power supply.
It has been observed recently that the frequency has been on the high side, why? They should tell Nigerians why? Because if you should ask the DISCO man he would deny it, he will tell you there is no generation.
What are the implications if the frequency goes as high as 51 Hertz and above?
It means that there is too much energy in the grid that is not been utilized. The moment they start taking the load, you will see that the frequency will go down and our machines especially the ones at Kainji will now see that somebody is utilizing the power.
When the frequency is too high, a 100 megawatts machine, for instance, will not be able to deliver that 100 megawatts again. It would give you maybe 60 or 70 or sometimes lower. There was a time one of the units in Kainji was delivering 30 megawatts. The control system saw it that somebody was not using the power and it automatically adjusted itself. The moment people start taking that power it will start going up.