A second look at monthly parley of operators in power sector

20 March 2016, Abuja – There is no doubt that a lot has happened and is still happening in the electricity sector since the inauguration of the monthly meeting of operators in the power sector.

*Babatunde Raji Fashola, Minister of Power, Works & Housing.

*Babatunde Fashola

The meeting which was initiated by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has so far taken place in Abuja, Lagos and Enugu with the next scheduled to take place in Calabar.

The meeting is in furtherance of the minister’s determination to identify, discuss and find practicable solutions to issues facing the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI).

One of these issues is how to find means to supply power to Nigerians. This therefore, brings the pertinent question; have the monthly meetings, so far been able to inspire the relevant organs to provide adequate power supply in the country?

Recently the Federal Government in its attempt to provide an answer to this question, acknowledged instances of epileptic power supply across the country. In a statement signed by the Minister of Information, the government cited pipeline vandalism, sabotage and inadequate gas supply to power plants as some of the reasons that have militated against power supply.

The Minister of Power while answering questions from journalists on the same issue, expressed optimism that the problems affecting the sector were not insurmountable. In his words “I am optimistic that problems affecting the sector can be solved if everyone understands how his action or inaction affects the system”.

The meeting of the operators in the power sector in the last three months may not have solved the challenge of epileptic power supply, yet there are positive signals emerging from the monthly meetings. For the first time, the issue of safety in the NESI has been elevated to the front seat. At the Lagos meeting, it was agreed that the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) shall start ranking the Distribution Companies (DISCOs) for safety compliance and accident reduction as well as applying sanctions for noncompliance.

It would be recalled that before now, there had been cases of electrical accidents and electrocution across the country which were mostly on account of negligence on the part of the Discos. In line with the resolution, NEMSA has commenced the safety and performance ranking of Discos.

At the last meeting, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Ibadan Discos were ranked in health and safety issues by NEMSA as the top three performing Discos in January, 2016. Similarly, Eko, Jos and Abuja Discos were ranked the top three in February 2016. This procedure will surely encourage and continue to improve safety standards on the part of Discos and their contractors. A clear cut data of who is doing what will not only reduce electrical accident but enable NEMSA to apply appropriate sanctions.

Again, in furtherance to the decision of the meeting on public engagement, the Discos were made to give their commitment towards metering of electricity consumers across the country. They have been mandated to improve customer service delivery by strengthening the operations of their customer centers and providing dedicated phone numbers to ensure consumers’ complaints within their areas are promptly responded to. As a way of deepening this commitment, Discos have also been mandated to ensure that all customers under Credited Advance Payment for Metering Implementation (CAPMI) are metered as quickly as possible. Going forward , a gradual wind down of the CAPMI has also commenced by ensuring that all those who have paid for meters are given and Discos will now bear the cost of supplying meters in line with the new tariff.

In line with this, the Discos signed an agreement to install prepaid meters. For instance, Eko Disco undertakes to meter 90,000 customers by June and 150,000 by December. Ikeja Disco undertakes to meter 120,000 customers by June and 150,000 by December while Kano Disco undertakes 40,000 meters by June and 100,000 by December.

The issue of estimated billing is a reoccurring issue in NESI and it is worrisome. There is no doubt that when electricity consumers are fully metered, estimated billings will be a thing of the past.

Another positive signal from the monthly meeting is that of ensuring that the Nigerian Electricity Trading PLC (NBET) came up with a solution of floating a sector bond as a way of resolving the electricity sector liquidity issues. This solution which covers validated present and future liquidity gaps until 2018 ensures that operators in the entire NESI value chain have access to finance.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is to resume disbursement of the balance of N213 billion CBN Nigerian Electricity Market Stabilization Facility (NEMSF) upon finalizing the structure and payment model with the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and other stakeholders. Before now, the disbursement of this fund to operators in the industry was suspended but with the intervention of the Minister at the monthly meeting, CBN agreed to commence further disbursement to shore up the liquidity ratio of the operators.

These are giant strides that will surely assist in fixing the nation’s NESI and making power supply available. Those who do not see the positive signs will choose to assess progress in electricity supply in terms of what I call the ‘tangible’ which is the availability of actual light. The fact remains that before achieving adequate power supply, there are basic fundamentals that must be addressed and these are what I call the ‘intangibles’ which the Minister through the monthly meeting is attending to.

There is a general consensus among operators that the monthly meetings have helped in resolving pressing issues and added value to their businesses and that of stakeholders in the power sector. All that is required now to achieve adequate power supply is for all hands to be on deck to translate these efforts into meeting the power needs of Nigerians.

– The writer, Uche Aneke, is General Manager, Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency

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