Inadequate transmission capacity is hurting the power situation in the country – in addition to the administrative and logistical problems delaying the completion of plants across the country – THISDAY can report today.
Although the gas supply problems are being gradually addressed by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, the country still has a long way to go to achieve stable power supply under the prevailing circumstances.
The explosion and fire outbreak re-occurred on Sunday, March 26, on the same facility.
But the Edo State Chairman of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Mr. K. O. Idahosa, told THISDAY at the weekend that he was not aware of the incidents, disclosing that such could have triggered system collapse and plunged the entire country into complete darkness.
"If there was system collapse, the entire country would have experienced darkness, but there was no such thing, to the best of my knowledge," he said.
THISDAY gathered that the explosion, which occurred at one of the transformers, caused a fire outbreak which led to prolonged power failure in many parts of the country.
"Everything about the time of the explosion and the fact that it happened at the Benin Transmission Station should arouse tremendous curiosity," a security source told THISDAY.
According to him, "we have taken cognisance of the fact that it happened at the time of the day when only about two persons were on duty, and they must have grown too tired to put out the fire immediately it broke out."
He described as curious the system collapse which occurred only two days after the Minister of Power, Prof. Bart Nnaji, travelled out of the country for the first time in a year.
The minister was in South Korea as part of the Nigerian delegation to the international conference on nuclear energy, and later went to London to sign a $10-billion deal with General Electric of the United States.
The suspicion that the incidents might have been the handiwork of saboteurs was heightened by the occurrence in the Benin Transmission, one of the most critical electricity facilities in Nigeria.
It was learnt that apart from the 330KV line from Onitsha in Anambra State, there is also a 330 KV line from the Delta Thermal power station in Delta State, which goes into the Benin station.
THISDAY gathered that two 33KV lines from Geregu station in Kogi State and another 33KV line to the Egbin power plant, Nigeria's largest electricity producer, which is located in Ikorodu, Lagos State, also pass through Benin Transmission line.
There is also another 330KV line, which goes from Benin to the Omotosho thermal station in Ondo State, and continues to the Ikeja West transmission Station in Lagos State.
It was also learnt that the explosion and fire at the Benin Transmission Station caused the Bus Bar Protection, which enables the station to avoid a complete disaster, to open all the lines into and out of the transmission station.
This is further worsened by the fact that less than 48 hours after the Friday incident, a similar incident occurred in the same station on Sunday, leading to another round of blackout.
Accusing fingers are being appointed at a section of electricity workers, who are opposed to the ongoing privatisation of the sector.
Both NUEE and the Senior Staff Association of Electricity and Allied Companies have vowed to renew their campaign against the privatisation.
The NUEE General Secretary, Joe Ajaero, could not be reached at the weekend but another top official of the union told THISDAY that it was unfair for the security agencies to insinuate that the union could sabotage the power sector.
"Whoever is suggesting that it is sabotage is very unfair to us. We are Nigerians and not foreigners. The worsening power situation affects us more than other Nigerians. When we push out energy that is supposed to last for one hour and it lasts for four minutes, it affects our revenue. Besides, the workers at the transmission end are well taken care of and have no reason to get involved in sabotage. The minister has also said that he is investigating the incidents and I think this suggestion of sabotage will pre-empt the outcome of the investigation," he said.
The labour unions have a frosty relationship with the Federal Government since President Goodluck Jonathan renewed the implementation of the 2005 Electric Power Reform Act which will see the private sector become the main driver of the sector.
Despite repeated assurances by the government that the reform would open enormous employment and business opportunities as witnessed in telecommunications following its liberalisation, trade unionists have insisted that it would lead to job losses in the power sector.
In a related development, four power stations are currently losing 977.5mw to gas supply shortages.
While the National Integrated Power Project plant in Olorunsogo loses 337.5mw, the second station at Olorunsogo, which is owned by PHCN, is losing 152mw to inadequate gas supply.
NIPP Sapele Station is losing 112mw; PHCN Geregu Station, 276mw and PHCN Ugheli Station, 100mw.
Gas supply infrastructure is not available in some of the stations, while others that have gas supply facilities do not have gas to fire the plants.
Nnaji has, meanwhile, summoned the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of all the PHCN distribution companies to an emergency meeting.
The meeting, scheduled for noon today, will discuss major issues that have led to the worsening electricity problems as well as fashion out ways to address them.
A highly placed power ministry source told THISDAY last night that the minister, who returned yesterday, expects the CEOs to offer some explanations regarding the current reduction in electricity supply nationwide and what they are doing to remedy the situation.
He listed three major issues hampering electricity supply currently as: gas shortfall, grid instability and low water levels at the dams.
Although the Ministry of Petroleum Resources was said to be working hard to ensure availability of gas for power generation, the source said chief among the problems hampering supply was inadequate gas to power the gas-fired stations.
For instance, he said power generation from the Olorunsogo Power Station was being hampered by gas issues, as only one or two units of the plant were currently functioning.
Besides, the Papalanto Power Station, built more than five years ago, is still lying fallow because there is no gas pipeline to transport gas to the station.
However, a document obtained by THISDAY last night showed that Sapele Power Station, one of the NIPP projects, is operating below installed capacity due to constraint of gas.
Similarly, Geregu, which belongs to the PHCN, is also producing at low capacity due to intermittent gas supply. Only one unit, according to the report, could run due to gas supply restriction. The second unit is out on bi-annual maintenance, the document revealed.
In the case of Olorunsogo, construction of gas pipeline earlier scheduled for completion by last month end has suffered set back. It was learnt that the earlier scheduled inauguration of the project for this month will be delayed till August.
Also, PHCN Ugelli Power Station is experiencing restricted operation due to limited gas supply.
The document also revealed erratic and poor quality gas supply from Ughelli east, which resulted in the eventual shut in of 100mw for nozzle clearing.
The source also said the Shiroro Hydro Power Station is completely down due to the current low water level at the dams, while Jebba and Kainji are functioning at low levels.
On the grid challenges, he said the Ministry of Power had developed the grid to generate 4000mw, but that at the moment, it could not generate up to 3200mw due to these challenges.
THISDAY learnt that except urgent steps are taken to boost supply of gas to the stations and the Ministry of Water Resources takes steps to ensure adequate water at the dams, the situation may further worsen as the generating capacity of the nation's power stations has continued to drop drastically.
But a power ministry source allayed these fears, saying today's meeting would fashion out ways to urgently address the problems.
Also a petroleum ministry source said last night that the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, was personally supervising the various gas projects to ensure availability of gas for domestic use.