RESTRUCTURE NERC NOW
SPEAKING FOR POWER SYSTEM ENGINEERS IN THE NIGERIAN POWER SECTOR
Power System Engineers have always maintained that the gains of the privatisation process cannot be felt except if conscious effort is made to involve qualified Power Systems experts to lead the course. The most recent addition to this urgent call or advise to a nation in darkness is the one from Engineer Otis Anyaeji, the current president and council chairman of the Nigerian Society of Engineers on why and how NERC should be restructured. Engineer Otis Anyaeji, in his interview with Tajudeen Suleiman in this month’s TELL Magazine on why and how the government should restructure NERC has this to say:
“They just have to appoint an Engineer as Chairman, an Engineer each to regulate generation, transmission, system operation, distribution and marketing. That is to say, five of the commissioners must be Engineers while the other two can come from support services” – I cannot express it better!
One should praise the courage and devotion towards the revamping of the electricity industry in Nigeria by Lawyers and Economists who tried their best in the last ten years as Commissioners of NERC. However, they should have known that Law is in no way relevant to the management of electricity business especially one that is in the kind of chaos the NESI is. Advanced economies whose models are copied hook, line and sinker, have had stable electricity for decades before toying with Lawyers and Economists to manage electricity business. When did we lose our collective senses? Only Power System Engineers who know their onions can save NESI, of course with a few lawyers and economists just for mere guidance. Power System is a unique field. The greatest damage done was to put Lawyers and Economists as Commissioners in numbers greater than Power Engineers, because, try as you may, you will move in circles. There will be no electricity. It is a career that some have spent their years to pursue, how easily can it then be replaced by those who pursued a different career running away from the almighty equations of physics and mathematics back in the days. I can say with full authority and confidence that “n” years down the line, this will be the path Nigeria will toll before electricity becomes available, and even at that, this will take many years – Transformers take time to manufacture, cables, overhead lines and switchgears take time to design, build, install etc. Most developed nations are now rebuilding their aged electrical networks and so manufacturers of electrical equipment needed by Nigeria have been oversubscribed with orders from China, UK, US, Canada etc. So who will manufacture for us let alone when the people in charge do not know what we need?
A Lawyer can ask what the manufacture of Transformer has to do with the regulation of the electricity business but a Power System Engineer will not especially when the regulatory asset base (RAB) is used in price regulation and determination of tariff increment.
I make bold to say that the industrialised economies themselves now regret the step they have taken in the power system field to allow Lawyers and Economists to take the lead in a field that is largely technical. As I have maintained over the last ten years, Nigeria cannot copy those who already have stable electricity systems in their approach towards privatisation (which is what was done, and I can understand why). Merit dictates that a square peg must not be put in a round hole. I agree that the problems in NESI are multi faceted and will therefore need a team from all the disciplines affected. What Power Systems Engineers insist on is that the team of “multi-disciplinary leadership” must be led by Power Systems Engineers if we must stop going round in circles. I am sure these Lawyers and Economists would have been in meetings and some of our technical terms or jargons are used and those in charge of setting policies and tariffs that will affect a whole nation will not have a clue. At best, they will accept whatever the fake consultants from anywhere tell them is right and thus put the nation at risk of confusion, policy somersaults, protests and annual deficit running into billions of Naira. For example, if anyone says they derived baseline technical, commercial and collection (aggregate system) losses without access to the network of transformers, cables, switchgears and associated data, a Power System Engineer will reject his submission because of knowledge. That way alone, NERC commissioners in the last ten years have set the “baseline” for inflicting eternal financial pain on poor Nigerians except something is done to make Power System Engineers to arrest the situation. Again, this is just as Power Engineers will not understand legal and financial issues as much as they would. When something is true, it remains truth regardless of sentiments. Power System is a unique field. To illustrate, if you want to invest in a Hospital project, you will need a “multi-disciplinary team” but you will always need to depend on medical experts to tell you what to buy and why.
I must be quick to say though that the regulation of electricity business is largely a difficult task even in developed economies. Yet, I feel a great sense of duty as a qualified Power Systems Engineer at that, to state categorically that the singular step of assigning non-Power System Engineers to lead the technically intensive Electricity Project is the Achilles Heel of the nascent privatisation and this is because of the position we are in the development of the power network, not because of the quality, and pedigree of Lawyers, Economists, Accountants and others whom Engineer Otis referred to as providers of support services.
Remember, it is quite difficult for Power System Engineers to watch a whole country remain in perpetual darkness and worse still, watch the country head in the wrong direction without at least stating the facts. I know Engineer Otis is my predecessor, but I am happy to put on records for posterity sake, that we actually advised the nation when it mattered the most!
NERC has to admit it created a wrong market. I wrote an article to explain why the market should not be established in February 2014. It does pain us when no one listens to technical and superior knowledge which is what matters in power systems. Please read the article and maybe NERC will find reasons to suspend that market now. It will continue to lead to recurrent shortfall like the 187 billion Naira inherited in 2015 alone!!!