Metering, according to Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mr Oladele Amoda, is the soul of the business. Without meters, it will be difficult to monitor consumption, leaving the distribution companies (DISCO) to resort to estimated billing, which many consumers are complaining about. But to give all consumers meters is capital intensive says Amoda, in this interview with Akinola Ajibade. But banks, he notes, are not ready to give out such money.
How many customers are yet to receive meters in your jurisdiction?
We have over 400,000 customers. Of this, close to 300,000 do not have functional meters while a few have meters that are working well. The meters that are not finctional are meters that our officials find difficult to read. Also, there are 6,000 meters for customers operating in industrail clusters. These are customers, who use heavy machines, and as a result, consume a lot of energy.
What measures have you taken to resolve the metering problem?
The measures are many. First, we are metering the houses/ buildings in our jurisdiction. Secondly, we have designed a meter roll out plan, through which we would supply meters to our customers. We have taken delivery of consignments of meters for our customers in the industrial areas, in line with our goal of meeting their needs. To do this, we approached indigenous meter manufacturers to provide meters for the use of customers in the industrial centres.
We use local meter producers in order to help drive the local content policy initiated by the Federal Government, and further assist in creating jobs. We believe that local manufacturers of meters have factories, and if Eko Electric Distribution Company and other DISCOs fail to patronise these manufacturers, they would not be able to function well.
Do local manufacturers of meters have the capacity to meet the needs of the 11 DISCOs?
No. The reason is because indigenous manufacturers are not many. They are overwhelmed with meter requirements from the DISCOs. This informed the decision of Eko DISCO to partner with manufacturers abroad to supplement local production with imports.
When did the meter problem start?
The scarcity of meters dates back to decades ago. But we discovered that many people do not have meters in November 2013, when we took over the assets of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). During that period, we found that over 55 per cent of customers did not have functional meters, while others do not have at all. It is one thing to have meters; it is another thing that meters are not working. When meters are not working well, it is as good as not having meters at all.
How do you charge customers that do not have meters?
Before we charge customers who do not have meters, we put them on estimation category. The estimation is not arbitrary because we go through scientific methodology as provided by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). The method follows a sequential order. First, we look at the feeders in a particular area to know the availability of supply on the feeders in a month.
Secondly, we look at the hours of supply on the feeders and transformers. So, when we are billing customers, we take into considerations the power effects on the feeders and the transformers. Thereafter, we check at the availability of power, on average on the transformers, and on the basis of this, we bill consumers after calculating the volume of energy they have consumed over a period of time, usually a month.
The DISCOs are making a lot of money, considering that many customers get estmated bills.
The DISCOs are not happy with estimated or crazy bills. We do not even like a situation whereby we charge estimated bills. As a matter of fact, we want our customers to have meters, hence the decision to put in place a meter roll out plan that is in operation now. The roll out plan is such that every customer would be metered. The only snag is that the plan would take some time before it is fully implemented.
In the performance agreement, which DISCOs signed with the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), they are supposed to meter all their customers within five years. But we do not want to go that long way. We are fast-tracking the plan to speed up the process.
How is your company executing the plan?
We want to go the smart way, ensuring that our customers have smart meters. Through this, we would change all the meters because we believe that majority of the meters in the industry have outlived their usefulness. The smart meters would help us to track down happenings in the meters, vis-a-vis helping us to know whether customers are having supply or not. This is as against a situation whereby we would rely on third-hand information, before we know whether meters are working well or not.
Are customers being educated on the use of smart meters, considering that the technology is new in Nigeria?
Efforts are ongoing to create awareness on the use of smart meters. We have organised town hall meetings, through which we met customers from various locations. The recent one was took place in Surulere, Lagos. The meeting was organised for customers around Ijora, Yaba, Ikate, Lawanson and its environs. Usually, issues such as billing and metering are discussed at the meeting. There, we told customers to be patient with us, as we are planning to roll out meters soon.
How do you meet the needs of customers, who cannot wait for the meters roll out plan to materialise?
Customers, who cannot wait for the meters roll out plan are advised to take advantage of the opportunities offered by a scheme known as CAPMI, an acronym for Credited Advance Payment for Metering Infrastructure.
The aim of the scheme is to take care of metering deficiencies or gaps inherent in the sector by helping customers who cannot wait for the meters roll out plan to get meters early enough.
Once customers cannot wait for our plan, they are allowed to apply for meters and after applying, we would assess their needs. Thereafter, we would give them options to choose; tell them the price and register them after making the payment for the meters within 45 days. After the payment, we would install the meters, and start paying them back the money they spent in procuring meters over a period of them. We would pay customers with interest (12- and-a-half per cent) on the money they paid for the meters. We regard the money as loan.
So, when customers start to complain about over billing or crazy billing, they have options to choose from. All they need to do is to pay or loan us the money and we would give them meters immediately.
How much do you collect from customers who obtain meters through CAPMI?
The price varies, depending on what the customers apply for. We have single-phased meters, double-phased meters and so on. What we do is to give customers a breakdown of the money, which they would pay when applying for meters under CAPMI. They are free to choose the plan that suits them.
How much have you invested in meter production?
The total calculation of what we need to ensure customers have meters is about $250 million. We have spent close to $50 million on meters. You know money is not easy to come by. There is no way we would get $250 million at once. You know banks are reluctant to give out loans to power. Banks said the DISCOs have exhausted the money or loans earmarked for them on the acquisition of the assets of the PHCN. The bulk of the money, which investors in the power sector used to acquire the assets, were sourced locally.
Is that why power firms are turning to foreign banks for assistance?
No, we are still approaching local banks. When you collect loans, you are required to pay back the loans over a period of time. The loan is a revolving one. Eko DISCO is not the only firm that is asking for loans from banks. We have 11 DISCOs demanding for one credit or the other from the 21 commercial banks in the country. Apart from giving loans to the power firms, banks have other customers requesting for facilities from them. The banks are overwhelmed with requests for facilities, and, as a result, are reluctant to give loans to their customers. Mind you, there is a limit to the amount banks can give out as laons to their customers.
Are power firms looking beyond banks to succeed?
Yes! There are other sources DISCOs are trying to explore to achieve their set goal of seamlessly distributing power to the consumers. There are many international donor agencies that have shown interest in helping energy companies in Nigeria. The agencies are not going to provide money to power firms. What they want to do is to provide technical assistance to the companies. But when you quantify the assistance, the value is much higher than money. Through the assistance, the DISCOs would improve their operations.
However, we use investors’ money to do some of the things we have done. I’m talking about the meters and other equipment we imported.
What are you doing to recover debts arising from comsumers’ failure to pay their bills?
We have been going round to persuade our customers to pay their debts. The management staff and workers in the Business Unit are talking to customers to pay their debts. We organise town hall meetings through which we meet our customers. At the meetings, we let them know that they are the ones behind every success we record. We tell them to pay their debts for us to continue in business.
What are you doing to ameliorate comsumers’ suffering?
We know that some customers have issues with DISCOs. Those that have issues with Eko DISCO, we tell them to come with their complaints with a view to seeing what we can do about them. When customers come to us with their complaints, we look at them and handle them properly. We have treated many cases to satisfy our customers because they are kings, and must, therefore, be treated well. When we check our records and discover that customers have been unnecessarily overbilled, we correct the mistake immediately. We have not fully automated our system, hence, the manual correction of mistakes in our operation. When we are fully automated, the correction would be done electronically. That is why we are taking advantage of the growth in the information communication technology (ICT) to link our customers and know what is happening to them.
What are you doing to reduce clashes between your workers and customers?
We see customers as partners in progress, and we treat them in that manner. However, we do not tolerate a situation whereby a community would rise up and say they are not ready to pay. We do not want customers to be molesting our staff, hence, the need to invite them to come and discuss their problems with us. To reduce friction between our our workers and customers, we ensure that our staff are humane as much as possible. We are customer- centric and this is evident in the kind of orientation we give our staff. There is a paradigm shift now because we want to be more customer-friendly. Once we realise that our workers are not dealing with customers properly, we talk to them to change their mental disposition towards customers. To serve as example for others, we relieve workers that are not ready to change of their jobs. We have done many staff audit, and those that are not performing well are asked to go. But at the same time, we want customers to be reasonable.
Recently, residents of Lekki Phase I protested against crazy bill. What are you doing about that?
I’m surprised because the residents have meters, except those that do not have functional meters. If they have any problem, they should meet us and we would attend to them.
What are you doing about embedded power?
We came up with embedded power because power supply is not enough. We at ( Eko DISCO) were getting 11 per cent of total electricity generated when we started operation. Months back, the generation was very low, as a result of this, power supply to us became very small which made customers to complain. To improve supply, we decided to carry out massive load shedding.
Immediately, we took over in November, 2013, we said to ourselves that we cannot rely solely on what we are getting from the national grid. We know that we cannot help the situation, in view of the fact that there are problems in the value chain. The problems include pipeline vandalism, poor supply of gas to the turbines and many others. This made us to approach companies that can generate power and give to us for distribution to our customers, in a manner in which the transactions would be beneficial to all parties.
How many megawatts are you getting now?
Before the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari came in, we were getting less than 200 megawatts of electricity on average. We track what we receive on hourly basis. You know whatever we get from the grid, we have to distribute it, we cannot store it. But it has improved now as we are getting between 400 and 450 megawatts of electricity. Though it is not that it is stable, but it is better than what we were getting before. But it is a far cry from what we actually require. Today, if we get 700 megawatts, we would manage it because there are so many suppressed loads right now. Some factories are not on the grid; they are generating their own power. When we have more power, they will come. In fact, some customers that are not with us are coming in gradually. The demand keeps increasing; if we see 700 megawatts today, we would be comfortable with it. The target is 2000 megawatts, and we hope to meet that target. After meeting this, we would increase our target to 6,000 megawatts. We are working towards achieving that target in the next few years.