The Power Transmission Challenge


LAST month, the Association of Power Generation Companies (APGC) reminded the nation that it had the capacity to generate 12,000 megawatts (MW) to reduce the shortfall in electricity supply in the country. Speaking at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the Executive Secretary of APGC, Mrs. Joy Ogaji, said that the generating companies (GENCOs) in the country currently have 8,000 MW capacity. There is however a snag: the transmission and distribution networks cannot absorb the power, even if generated. Between January and March 2017 alone, there were 10 instances of collapse in the process of transporting the available energy. According to Ogaji: “Out of the 8,000 MW, the Transmission Company or the transporter that can take this power from us to give to the distribution companies has a maximum capacity of 5,500, which is what they claim, but we believe they can’t take more than 4,500. A systems stress test that was conducted on the distribution lines shows that the distribution companies (DISCOs) can only take a maximum of 4,600 MW.”

By any standards, talking about 12,000 megawatts for a population of about 170 million people is simply unfortunate. Yet, Nigerians would troop into the streets in celebration if such a “milestone” were achieved by any government. In any case, even if the GENCOs could advance power generation in the country, the fact that, for decades, there has been no overhaul of the transmission network in the country to increase the supply of electricity to Nigerians simply means that the nation will remain in darkness. It is certainly a tragedy that, 57 years since independence, the acclaimed giant of Africa has been unable to generate five per cent of 150,000 megawatts, the minimum volume of electricity required to meet its developmental needs. Government after government has merely mouthed platitudes. On the other hand, a country like South Africa with a population of 55 million is close to generating 50,000 megawatts, evidencing the fact that Nigeria’s road to rapid industrialisation is indeed a long one.

A significant part of the problem lies, in our view, in the centralisation of the transmission network that has accompanied the centralisation of political power in the country. Over the years, power transmission has remained the sole business of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), a patent anomaly in a supposedly federal state. In spite of this anomaly, the distress and anguish experienced by Nigerians would still have been mitigated if conscious efforts had been made by governments over the years to give the TCN a massive turnaround. To date, the body saddled with the responsibility of transmitting energy from the grid to power stations across the country is hampered by obsolete equipment and poor funding.

Thus, Nigeria continues to experience the distressing and vexing problem of inability to transmit power, even when generated. Even the admittedly limited efforts by various state governments in the area of power generation at various times have been hampered by the centralisation of the transmission network, as any power generated must first be evacuated into the national grid before it can be of use to anybody. Against this backdrop, the Federal Government’s touted N701 billion intervention fund meant to pay for the migration of electricity generated by the GENCOs to TCN and the DISCOs does not address the real problem of the sector.

Given this reality, it can be said with justification that the various road maps for development fashioned by different administrations, particularly since the return to civil rule in 1999, have hardly been designed with vision, because no responsible government leaves leprosy unattended to while frantically tackling ringworm. It certainly is bewildering that a nation without the requisite power supply outlay has been making efforts to revive the railway system and institute the standard gauge. If you have no electricity to make the system work, why seek to revive the railways? And even if you do and people enjoy the new rail travel experience, where exactly will they be heading to if there are no factories or industries to absorb the unemployed? Village festivals?

In any case, with the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) behaving like a captured regulator and rationalising the failures of the DISCOs, Nigerians cannot experience improved power supply anytime soon. Sadly, the Ministry of Power does not appear bothered by the linear transmission system in the country while even the governors touting regional integration are not yet interested in the question of power transmission. We call on the federal and state governments to come to a roundtable and engage the transmission problem realistically.  Failure to do so will keep Nigeria firmly in darkness.

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