Rising Distribution Issues, Electrocutions Worry Electricity Customers

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About, 43 months after privatisation, some sections of customers say most of these changes are yet to be significantly visible. Records show power generation was at 3,800 megawatts (mw) at takeover and now, it is just above 4,000mw with an available capacity of 8,500mw. Transmission is now about 5,000mw wheeling capacity and the distribution network capability is about 4,000mw.

The operators of Distribution Companies (DisCos) in their Performance Agreement with the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) have investment target of five years to reduce the Aggregate Technical, Collection and Commercial (ATC&C) losses, speed up meter customers and phase-off estimated billing, and strengthen their networks to reduce electrical accidents. It is just 17 months closer to the target expiration and many customers are concerned as they are yet to see pointers to these anticipated improvements.

Power trips when it rains

Traditionally, the early and late rains bring to Nigerians memory of incessant and prolonged power outage. Research shows that such was the situation during the NEPA/ PHCN days.

With privatisation, it is expected that these doom days should have been long gone. Experts said the constant power outage experienced recently was due to aged and poorly maintained distribution networks since the take over. Some noted that these issues of the DisCos were overlooked by the authorities for some reasons.

Residential customers who spoke on this issue across some DisCos expressed dissatisfaction about this. To them, once there were signs of rain, the network trips off.

In a similar vein, a commercial printer, Mr Joe Onuche, in Makurdi Town, under Jos DisCo, said once the lines tripped off without notice, his offset lithography machines often suffered shock. A transmission expert, Engr. Anyebe Mike, raised concerns about this. He attributed the outage to inefficiencies in the DisCos’ networks; adding that the Generation Companies (GenCos) did not shutdown plants when it rained and that that caused load rejection and frequency issues.

Talking to some GenCos, Mainstream and Geregu for instance, complained bitterly on operating below their optimal level. They reiterated the fact that the constant instructions TCN (SO) gave to ramp down and reduce load was not commercially and technically viable for their operations.

They said several reasons were inhibiting the optimal performance of the GenCos; including sub-standard distribution network and lack of line tracing/clearing, energising feeders, among others, which caused load rejection along with its financial implications.

Electrical accidents on the rise

Over 80 per cent of the accidents that occurred in the sector since 2013 have been traced to faulty installations under DisCos and few to negligence on the part of customers.

The Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) Safety Performance Report of March 2017 traced 14 electrocutions and nine injuries to 14 accidents that occurred across seven DisCos.

The technical enforcement agency traced the cause of the accidents to system protection equipment failures, total absence of protection devices, and poor response to monitored networks, vandalism, poor terminations and poor maintenance of ageing distribution networks.

The April 2017 report showed that the electrocution figure was the highest this year, with over 20 deaths. For instance, on April 20, about 30 persons were reportedly electrocuted and 18 others injured at a football viewing centre in Calabar when a high-tension cable of Port Harcourt DisCo fell on the building.

Same month, a family of three was electrocuted in Nyanya, a suburb of the FCT, caused by cable snap.

There were similar electrocutions traced to faulty distribution networks with over 35 other cases and 20 injuries between 2014 and March 2017 across Enugu, Eko, Ikeja, Abuja, Kaduna, Kano, and Jos DisCos.

Following the electrocutions, NERC directed all the 11 Discos to renew their comprehensive insurance as provided under Part 5 Section 5.2 of the Health and Safety Code for the Nigeria Electricity Supply Industry (NESI).

Mr. Onadipe Kolapo, residing in Mararaba, Nasarawa State, noted that there were many weak poles and dirty cable connections; especially in the slums, and that such posed death threat to Nigerians.

“The power firms need to do a thorough clean-up of the system. Where there are dirty networks, they need to sanitise it so that accidents do not reoccur,” he added.

Metering, remittance still a hiccup

Metering of customers and ensuring a robust remittance for energy payment is still a hiccup in the sector. Residential customers are still left at the total mercy of 11 DisCos as the only hope they had through the Credited Advanced Payment for Metering Initiative (CAPMI) has been snatched off by NERC since November 2016.

In an earlier NERC meeting with DisCos on metering in April 2016, it was found from the metering statistics that more meters were bought by customers through CAPMI than the DisCos’ metering plans of about 100,000 units annually.

The Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET) in its March remittance publication said the DisCos were still doing below 50 per cent monthly remittance; only Abuja DisCo rose by over 50 per cent.

The collection and remittance of electric payments still pose a huge challenge to the liquidity crisis and over N1 trillion shortfalls in the sector, Daily Trust reports. There is need for a transparent revenue collection and remittance process for the sector to be viable and attractive to investors and bring about efficiency.

President of the Consumer Protection Network (CPN) in Abuja, Mr Kunle Olubiyo, in his response about DisCos taking to court often to challenge NERC directives, said they reserved the right to seek redress in court; especially in a democratic setting. However, he noted that the DisCos would need to step up their services even when they were faced with liquidity issues.

Another observer said such threat by DisCos over non-performance was tantamount to holding the country to ransom; especially as they knew the effect of court-prolonged processes.

Reacting on the DisCos’ plans to go to court over the declaration of eligible customers, pioneer Managing Director of the Market Operator (TCN), Prof. Achinanya Uzoma, said: “The declaration of eligible customers in the sector is backed by law. The Electric Power Sector Reform Act 2005 supports it in Sections 27 and 28. Even if someone goes to court, the judge will have to ask what the law says about it.”

In a recent interview with Daily Trust, the DisCos, through Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED) said: “No DisCo has less than N10 per kilowatt hour losses in its operation. No single DisCo is making profit as at today because we are only struggling to recover our cost.”

Spokesman for ANED, Bar. Sunday Olurotimi Oduntan, explained that the market shortfall of over N1bn had crippled the DisCos’ investment power. He said while the GenCos had their tariff component pegged in dollars, the DisCos who actually collected revenue for the sector operated in the domestic currency; adding that the foreign exchange fluctuation made it worse.

Oduntan further said although the cost of getting energy from the GenCos had risen, the DisCos were not allowed to sell power beyond the tariff benchmark, hence they strove to balance payment and the shortfalls they incurred along the repayment of interest of loans, including that of the CBN power fund.

“The major part of the liquidity issue is that foreign exchange keeps fluctuating. As at December 2015, it was N197. By June 2016, it became N293 and now it is N360. This is a difference of N163 and nobody is talking about it for the DisCos. We are not clamouring for a tariff raise but government needs to intervene because the shortfall in the sector has reached N809.8billion,” Oduntan said.

Source: Daily Trust

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