How to fix Nigeria’s power problem

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“Wield the big stick and ensure there is gas to power if power generation is to improve.’’ This was the advice given to President Muhammadu Buhari by Professor Chinedu Nebo, immediate past Minister of Power on how to deliver reliable power supply to Nigerians.

He was, however, quick to point out that the huge investments in the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) and other investments in power generation had led to a historic 6000 megawatts installed generation capacity at handover.

In an interview just before the handover, Nebo said: “I hate excuses. But I would say that commitments were made to give us gas, but we didn’t get the gas. It is just as simple as that. It is very painful. I also blame vandalism. But much of the blame goes to the oil firms and gas producers for what I consider their hypocrisy. They have been hypocritical with this whole issue of making sure that we have gas and helping us bring Nigerians out of darkness.”

He alleged that gas producers are only interested in exporting the nation’s gas and diverting what remained for the domestic market to industries, instead of the power sector where it is greatly needed.

“I regard the NIPP project as a huge benefit to this country. It wasn’t President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration that started it. It was started under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, but it was left to fizzle out until President Jonathan came on board. He re-energised it and got all the three arms of government to agree to continue and complete the 10 plants.

According to the former Minister, the NIPP projects are contributing more power than the legacy Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) power plants to the national grid today. He added that most of the NIPP projects had been completed, with a few on-going.

The Minister explained that privatisation and commercialisation of these plants are still ongoing and the private sector has injected so much to revive ailing turbines, much more than government could ever have found the money to do. “Today, we have Egbin Power Plant adding over 220mws, Ughelli over 400mws. But my two regrets, however, are that we lost the war against vandalism and we lost the war against inadequate gas supply. This new government should take a cue and make sure that the petroleum sector does what it ought to do to make sure that there is enough gas going to the power plants. It is very critical. If the new administration does not do that, Nigerians are going to keep suffering in darkness,” Professor Nebo said.

Nebo also hoped that the new administration would also fight vandalism and bring the vandals to their knees.  He said: “It takes two weeks to fix them only for them to be blown up again within 24 to 48 hours of fixing. It cost over N120 million and thereabouts every month to fix the pipelines that are damaged. But recently, it is costing over N1billion plus to make sure that the integrity of the transportation of the gas-to- pipeline is maintained.

“I think it is scandalous that we produce over 5 billion scf of gas every day, sell 4 billion and retain only 1 billion scf for local use. The one for local use is preferentially given to industries and not to power, starving the power sector of the needed gas to industrialise this country and I think that is a shame.”

He also claimed that a good foundation had been established in power generation capacity. “For generation, as I have said, the NIPP projects have been great and many of them are coming on board, and more and more plants would be ready. If there is gas, it shouldn’t take long before every Nigerian would know that a lot happened in the last few years with regard to the power sector. It is very important that we look at the score cards.

“For two years and three months, I was Minister of Power. Looking back, it hasn’t been a bed of roses. Even if it were a bed of roses, when you have roses, you have thorns. In fact, sometimes, we have seen more thorns than the roses. But we are grateful to God that the power sector has really come a long way,” he said.

Nebo said the quickest and most inexpensive way of making sure that Nigerians get adequate power and eventually 24/7 power is embedded generation or distributed power. “If you have embedded generation, 10mws or 20mws, by the time you put 20mws in 10 different places, you would have 200mws. You can do that in one year. But for a mega 200, 400, or 500mw plant, it is a different thing entirely. By the time you build that, starting from concept, to design and financing, getting international partners, the partial risk and national sovereign guarantee, it would have taken five to six years,” he said.

“While in one year, you can have 50 of 20mws plants that translate to 1000mws, trying to do one mega plant of 1000mws takes five years. This means that we can actually give Nigerians 2000mws of power by embedded generation or distributed power every year, till the year 2020. With that, we will meet our target.”

Professor also called for action on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), noting that it would liberalise the market, and make it easier for more gas to be available.

Dike Onwuamaeze

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