Fire disaster threatens power infrastructure

Power transmission grid13 March 2014, Lagos – The power sector recorded numerous fire outbreaks during the time of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria. And it does appear the baton of the ugly incident has been transferred to the private investors.

Even without the threat of fire, experts note that Nigeria’s power sector infrastructure base remains grossly inadequate. Currently, only about 4,000 megawatts of power can be generated when the country’s installed power capacity is about 10,000MW. The available installed capacity is about 6,000MW and the transmission section of the power sector value chain is considered the weakest. As such, the Transmission Company of Nigeria lacks the capacity to completely evacuate the 4,000MW power being generated.

The continuous fire outbreaks, which involve power assets, are now threatening the already weak power infrastructure and reducing electricity supply to the consumers.

In the absence of statistics on what the power sector has lost to both reported and unreported fire incidents, the Minister of Interior, Patrick Abba-Moro, last year said that the country was losing about N50bn worth of property every year to the disaster.

Whether the worth of the power equipment lost to fire incidents was contained in the amount could, however, not be ascertained. But one thing is certain; huge losses are recorded when fire guts any power installation and consumers are also affected.

Though not all the fire incidents recorded in the power sector have to do with internal faults; some are caused by external elements.

For instance, the TCN lost one of its 330kV transmission lines from Sapele to Ughelli in Delta State and 12 towers along the line route to a fire incident caused by a petrol tanker, which caught fire between towers 88 and 89 at about on March 9, 2014.

The General Manager, Public Affairs, TCN, Mrs. Seun Olagunju, in a statement, said that the loaded petrol tanker, which fell and caught fire at Ogborode Junction, near Warri in Delta State destroyed the 330kV Sapele- Ughelli transmission line and brought down the TCN’s towers number 82 to 93 along its route.

She said that the fire caused the melting and snapping of all the line conductors between the two towers causing a loss of balance along the transmission line, and swinging of towers which resulted in their eventual collapse.

With the collapse of the 12 towers, Olagunju said the TCN had temporarily lost power evacuation from the line, adding that all the power generated by Delta and Sapele Power Stations would be evacuated through the second 500MW capacity 330kV transmission line from Ughelli to Benin.

The TCN put the financial losses from the incident to N1bn, adding that such amount would be required for the reconstruction of 12 towers and rehabilitation of tower No 81.

It also pledged to do all it could to reconstruct the 330kV transmission line as quickly as possible to check further losses to the nation.

Despite the transmission limitation caused by the fire incident, the TCN said that the second 330kV transmission line from Ughelli to Benin and the 132kV transmission lines one and two from Benin to Ughelli would adequately evacuate power generated from the power stations to Benin.

“It has also put in place plans to ensure that the transmission lines are free of encumbrances to ensure continued efficient wheeling of power generated,” the TCN said.

Olagunju specifically said the TCN’s quick response engineering team and its transmission contractors were immediately deployed in the accident site to fully assess the level of damage to the system with a view to putting in place quick remedial plans, pending the re-construction of the 12 transmission towers.

But a senior official with the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said that the TCN’s response to repairing faulty equipment was very slow.

Unlike the Discos, the official carpeted the TCN over its sluggish response to fault clearing and wondered whether the promise for quick reconstruction of the affected transmission towers would be kept.

It will be recalled that a 150MVA 330/132/33kV transformer at the Ikeja West Transmission Station located in Ayobo area of Lagos State was razed by fire on May 14, 2013.

When the fire incident occurred, Mr. Okaa Akamnonu, who was the chief executive officer/managing director in charge of the Ikeja Distribution Company at the time, described the affected transmission station as one of the “biggest in the country” and it was responsible for massive power transmission.

He said, “There was a fire incidence on Tuesday, May 14 at the Ikeja West Station which has resulted in a loss of one out of the five numbers of units that transmit voltage from 33kva/132 which basically feeds customers in Ikeja and part of Ogun State.”

The TCN had said then that the fire was caused by some defects in the transformers. But 10 months after the incident, the transformer has yet to be replaced.

Similarly, a 150MVA, 330/132/33kV power transformer in the Osogbo sub-regional/ work centre office of the TCN was gutted by fire in the early hours of Friday, March 7, 2014.

Consequently, parts of Akure, Ilesha, Ife, Ondo, Osogbo Complex, Ado-Ekiti and Iwo were immediately subjected to power rationing.

Olagunju explained in a statement that the fire started after explosive sound was heard from the 150MVA power transformer.

She said the second 150MVA, 330/132kV power transformer in the sub-regional office, tripped during the incident but was not affected by the fire.

She added that the management of the TCN had commenced investigation into the immediate and remote causes of the inferno that destroyed the 150MVA, 330kV/132kV power transformer inaugurated in March, 2010.

Similarly, the 45MVA 132/33/11kV and 40MVA 132/33kV transformers at the Akoka Transmission Station were recently affected by a fire outbreak that affected the blue and yellow-phase CVT and the lightning arrester.

Two 15 MVA 132/11kV transformers at the Onitsha Transmission Station were also said to have lost their primary breakers to explosion on January 23, 2014.

On January 16, 2013, fire had razed the control room of the 132KVH Amuwo Transmission Station in Lagos.

The station’s control room was severely damaged by the inferno and several areas in Lagos were thrown into darkness. The affected areas included KiriKiri, Apapa and Satelite Town. Others are Festac Town, Amuwo Odofin, Ajegunle, Industrial Estate, Tin-Can Coconut, and Beach Island.

In the same vein, the defunct PHCN station at Egbu near Owerri was gutted by fire in September 2011 and the incident affected the main engine room and other parts of the station.

The Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, had last year attributed incessant power outages in the country to dilapidated infrastructure.

He specifically said the low capacity to generate and distribute power had a lot to do with the old equipment currently in use in the sector.

Speaking on whether aged equipment had anything to do with the fire outbreaks involving power equipment, a senior official of one of the Discos who did not want to be named, said, “Two years ago, we recorded a fire outbreak at Aiyede Transmission Station in Ibadan and investigation showed that there was a wire cut involving a snapped aluminium conductor.

“An aluminium conductor carries live current and when it snaps and makes contact with the ground, it catches fire, especially when the ground has oil splashed on it and this will cause an explosion.”

He explained, “Our climate is hot and harsh and due to this, the aluminium conductors, which are installed outward, are continuously exposed to the harsh weather. They, therefore, get eroded and with age, there is the tendency for them to snap and cause fire, which affects the sub-station.”

The official, however, said that care should be taken to ensure that oil being put into the transformers at transmission stations should not be allowed to splash on the ground so as not to cause an explosion.

Experts, therefore, warned that efforts should be made to reduce fire incidence in the power sector, adding that the country could not afford to be losing critical power infrastructure to fire when it needed all the power it could get.

On externally induced fire outbreak, the TCN pleaded with motorists, especially those hauling highly inflammable items such as petrol to drive with care and ensure that their vehicles were in good order to avoid such losses.


– Dayo Oketola, The Punch

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