THE recent announcement by the Federal Government of a 20-year electricity transmission development plan looks persuasive on the surface, like every other ambitious long-term plan the government has gone into.
A document presented to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola by the Interim Managing Director of the Federal Government-owned Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN, Mr. Usman Gur Mohammed, targets the wheeling capacity of 10,000 megawatts by 2020 and moving up to 28,000 megawatts by 2035.
According to Fashola, the plan is meant to ensure that, “in future, we should no longer have the story of stranded power. That is power that is produced but not utilised because of no transmission and evacuation means.”
Most successful countries engage in long-term planning as a means of overcoming most of their capital developmental challenges but in Nigeria, they hardly get implemented. They have become the greatest sources of abandoned projects which litter our national landscape.
Our perceived inability to make much progress in our electric power development plans since 1999 owes mainly to corruption and lack of continuity in the execution of capital projects due to regime changes even within the same political parties. We are worried that this transmission plan might suffer the same fate, since the President Muhammadu Buhari dispensation will not last beyond the next five years at the maximum if he is re-elected.
The only way to meet this ambitious national goal is for the Nigerian governing elite to have a change of attitude to governance. We must start seeing government as a continuum beyond the narrow confines of partisan politics and selfish interests. Each new regime that comes on stream must key into ongoing strategic national policies and plans.
Another source of uncertainty about this plan is the general realisation that the “national grid” system of electricity transmission has proved unworkable. Those calling for restructuring and devolution of powers argue that decentralisation of power generation and transmission is the only viable way forward. Projecting centralised power transmission in this country into the next 20 years is both unrealistic and myopic.
We must begin to look at the alternative opportunities that a decentralised system of transmission presents. We strongly believe that if the national grid is devolved to the six geopolitical zones, for instance, power generation and transmission to the various localities will be more speedily optimised.
Every zone will use what they have, be it hydro, gas, thermal, wind, solar or a mix of all to get what they want. Healthy competition will ensue among the various zones and we will be able to achieve far more than 28,000MW of electricity by 2035.
We should not hang an expensive, long-term plan on a tried-and-failed centralised national grid system.