The Federal Government has disclosed that it will within the next four weeks increase the volume of gas supply to the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and National Integrated Power Projects (NIPPs)-operated thermal power plants across the country with an additional 65 million cubic feet per day (mmcf/d).
But as the Federal Government gives itself a pat on the back for the improvement in gas supply and electricity output, its meeting with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) yesterday to forestall the threat of a strike in the power sector over the payment of PHCN workers' entitlements was inconclusive.
Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, stated yesterday in Abuja while briefing journalists on the progress of government's short-term emergency plan, which was launched a couple of months ago to address the challenges of gas supply to power plants in the country, that within September, additional volume of gas for power generation would have increased to 245mmcf/d.
Alison-Madueke explained that the volume would exceed what was planned within the first tranche of the short-term measure when government was expected to have increased gas supply by 180mmcf in two to three months.
The minister said: "Since the rollout of the plan, we have achieved major milestones in the expansion of the Escravos-Pipeline System - the major gas supply artery to the power plants. This is the most extensive expansion ever undertaken on this pipeline network since it was built 30 years ago.
"Specifically, in the period, we have completed the critical pipeline segments: the 27km x 24 inch permanent gas supply pipeline from Itoki to Olorunsogo via Ewekoro, the 56km x 24 inch Escravos-Warri gas pipeline; doubling the pipeline capacity and enhancing gas evacuation from Escravos as well as the 130km x 36 inch Oben to Geregu pipeline."
According to Alison-Madueke, "The net impact of all these is the addition of 120 million cubic feet of gas per day (mmcf/d) to the grid and the permanent elimination of the challenges of low gas pressure that has plagued the Olorunsogo PHCN and NIPP power plants.
"We are also now well positioned to supply gas to the existing Geregu power plant and all anticipated future expansions in that axis."
Speaking on further steps taken to increase gas supply to the power plants, she said: "Specifically, with these interventions, we are now able to supply gas to the full requirements of Egbin, Sapele PHCN, Delta IV, Olorunsogo, both PHCN and NIPP plants and Omotoso PHCN power plants.
"In addition, we are able to meet the requirements of two out of three turbines in Geregu and one out of two turbines in Sapele NIPP, a further 65mmcf/d within the next three - four weeks to come from ongoing work at Oredo field which will effectively bridge the outstanding gap in supply, enabling supply to all power plants on the Western axis.
"It is also envisaged that the gross short term additions by September will be 245mmcf/d as opposed to the promised 180mmcf/d in the short term."
Alison-Madueke assured Nigerians that going forward, the trend in gas supply to power plants would be sustained for improved power generation.
Meanwhile, the Group Executive Director (GED), Gas and Power of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. David Ige, also disclosed that the total debt owed the Nigerian Gas Company (NGC) by PHCN for gas supplied has risen to N26 billion as at June 2012.
Ige explained that PHCN's financial commitment to gas supply would further increase in line with increase in gas supplied to it.
He, however, noted that the Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji, had committed to ensuring that existing debts to the NGC is cleared shortly, while future transactions will be backed by 100 per cent cash payments.
"We have met with the Ministry of Power and a lot of work is being done internally; we are sure that as we progress, we should get all payment for gas supplied.
"We were expecting the first payment a few days ago if not for the strike, and our conviction now is that going forward, the issue of underpayment will essentially be addressed and of course the payments will be consistent," Ige said.
He said there were no conflicts in the figures owed because the invoices are always reconciled between the buyer and seller and "so there is no cause for conflict on how much is being owed".
Irrespective of the improvement in gas supply and electricity output, the meeting between the Federal Government and the NLC and TUC Wednesday over the discordant issues in the power sector was inconclusive and has been rescheduled for next Wednesday.
Although information reaching THISDAY showed that the strike may be shelved eventually, by the postponement, the warring parties may have been able to buy time, as the strike ultimatum expires on Friday night.
After much resistance by labour that the meeting would hold without the presence of officials of the Ministry of Power and insistence by labour for the withdrawal of soldiers from PHCN facilities, the parties finally sat down to what they called a "meeting" and not "negotiations".
At the end of the meeting, a "Notice to the Public" was read by the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu, on the agreements reached by both sides which included to effect the payment of the June salary of PHCN workers and to "address the presence of security personnel in the offices of PHCN".
"The meeting agreed to reconvene on Wednesday, August 22, 2012 to continue the discussions on the issues raised including the notice to embark on strike by the NLC," he read.
However, the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) has demanded that the Minister of Power, Nnaji, should resign immediately over what the union described as fraudulent activities in the power sector and causing tension in the country through misinformation.
The General Secretary of NUEE, Comrade Joe Ajaero, while speaking to the media after the meeting, alleged that the minister withdrew several monies from the PHCN account.
Giving a breakdown, he said N395 million was set aside for the media for a period of three months; N280 million for the Nigeria Army; N200 million for unknown projects in the ministry; N86 million allegedly for a bulletproof vehicle; and N3 million which was donated to the Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT).
He demanded an explanation from the minister for his role in the appropriation of the funds.
Other allegations levelled against the minister were employment of his relatives as staff two years after the closing date for casual employment and closure of the PHCN biometrics exercise; refusal to pay regularised casual staff their salaries since February 2012; and the appointment of Geometric staff as the Bulk Trader in the sector, thereby giving advantage of load allocation to his company.
Ajaero added that the minister should explain his roles as Chairman, Geometrics Power Ltd, Chairman, Aba Power Ltd and Minister of Power, which pose a conflict of interest.