By Idowu Oyebanjo
The declaration of eligible customers prior to the prevalence of conditions precedent as stated in the contract between FG and DisCos became inevitable because the DisCos have not been transparent with remittances of monies collected from consumers thereby worsening the illiquidity crisis in the electricity market within the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI). In addition, DisCos have failed to invest in customer metering and the reduction of aggregate technical, commercial and collection losses as required by their distribution licencees. Federal Government (FG) has therefore invoked the eligibility customer clause according to section 27 of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA) 2005 under Ministerial directives. One can easily understand the FG trying to preserve the health of the sector. However, the initial reaction of the DisCos may be to cry foul. This may not be necessary as some of the transactions will still go through DisCos and TCN. It is therefore in order to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in FG’s decision to allow GenCos to sell electricity “directly” to four categories of customers with average monthly consumption of 2MW and connected to the medium and high voltage segments of the electricity network. This in my opinion should be described as customers with minimum Authorised Supply Capacity (ASC) of 2MVA. This is equivalent to a consumption of 100 Amperes (unit of current) at 11kV.
By declaring the eligible customers, Nigeria’s privatisation addresses the myth around subjecting a “natural monopoly” to economic regulation rather than competition in a privatised electricity supply industry by deepening competition in the electricity market of natural monopolies. Such competition or liberalisation will force the existing 11 DisCos to improve their operational efficiency and customer service. This will become a reference wherever matters of electricity regulation are being discussed in the world of power systems.
The advent of Distributed Generation and bringing of generation close to consumers will help to improve the liquidity of the electricity market and achieve the desired reduction in network losses more quickly if the scheme is properly implemented.
Overall, the declaration of eligible customers and full liberalisation offer many benefits to NESI, address some of the causes of the liquidity issues bedeviling the industry, re-establish confidence in NESI, send the right signals to potential investors, will create jobs in an improved manufacturing sector and therefore the economy, introduce competition in demand side as well as in distribution of electricity, improve operational efficiency, reduce network losses, encourage customer friendly operations, introduce innovation, end the era of unnecessary bailout funds and hopefully reduce cost of wholesale electricity in the long term.
The main reasons for the inability of the DisCos to perform have not been tackled. They are technically and financially bankrupt. As it stands, government will need to fund metering of consumers and network infrastructural development by DisCos or wait for them to return the Asset to BPE for fresh investors with technical cum financial capability to take over the operation of the assets. Also, the government-owned TCN network is the Achilles heel of the electricity value chain. In the last three years of privatisation, investment in transmission and distribution infrastructure has not been made to facilitate the uptake of stranded generation capacity. In its current state, the transmission network is capable of wheeling a maximum of between 4,600 – 5,500 MW of electricity. Thus, this policy directive by government has the potential for the privatisation or concessioning of the transmission network to qualified investors. There are also the lingering issues of cost–reflective tariffs and base-line network losses which I must say are difficult to resolve.
Gas-to-Power initiatives in Nigeria need increased attention and dedication to ensure adequate investment in gas infrastructure is in place to deliver gas to thermal power plants dotted around the country without which there can be no increase in the quantum of electricity to be supplied to eligible customers. In addition, the incessant cases of vandalization of gas pipelines for economic sabotage has to be addressed by going to the root of the matter, meeting the yearnings and aspirations of agitators and stakeholders, accelerating the passage of the bill to out-law gas flaring and consideration of other alternatives such as mini-LNG, LPG, CNG for gas-to-power schemes.
Eligible customers are located in widely separated geographical areas, and more importantly, at considerable distance from existing GenCos. Thus, except independent power plants are sited near aggregated clusters of consumers, the scheme will be difficult to implement. It must be emphasised heretofore that implementation will have to commence gradually and in clusters in various parts of the nation for the positive impact to be felt. This aligns with our earlier proposition that regional network development along with distributed generation schemes provide the fastest means of ensuring incremental, stable and uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria.
…to be continued
Idowu Oyebanjo MNSE CEng MIET