Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigerians Groan Under Severe Blackout

Photo: Vanguard
Electricity in Nigeria

Lagos — AS the country prepares for the yuletide season, Nigerians across the country have continued to groan under intense electric power outage currently rocking the nation.

As if the heat accompanied by this massive power blackout is not enough, the nation's power utility company, Power Holding Company of Niger, PHCN, has continued to distribute outrageously high bills, popularly known as crazy bills, to virtually all consumers.

This is coming even as the Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN, the connecting company between generation and distribution, claims that it is currently transmitting over 4,000 Megawatts to distribution companies across the country.

The reasons for the current situation has been blamed on the system collapse, which occurred on Thursday, November 29, due to a fault on the 330kv transmission line from Benin to Onitsha and the shutdown of Escravos Gas Plant, causing the combined nationwide shutdown of 3,716Mw, the shutdown of three units of the Egbin Power Station and the closure of transmission stores, which house maintenance spare parts for PHCN facilities.

NERC, bills and consumers

National Electricity Reforms Commission, NERC, saddled with the responsibility of regulating the nation's power sector and ensuring reliable and steady power supply to all Nigerians, seems to have also lost grip of the sector as low power voltages are on astronomical rise with several Nigerians incurring huge costs over loss of home electrical appliances due to poor supply of electricity even in the face of crazy billings being distributed nationwide.

Checks by our correspondents around the country revealed that most parts of Lagos State are badly affected as residents who spoke with Vanguard all complained of incessant power outages and bills which were not commensurate with the power supplied them within the period.

In some areas on the mainland, low power voltage has been reported as the order of the day, destroying electrical appliances in its wake.

Checks in parts of Ogun State also revealed same situation as most residents, who spoke to our correspondent, complained of days without power supply but with overzealous PHCN staff always threatening to cut off their electricity supply for failure to pay the high bills forwarded to them.

Checks around Benin, Edo State capital, also revealed that residents were not having the best of times as low power voltages in most areas have continued to take its toll on businesses around the state.

Most small businesses have resorted to power generating sets as their main source of supply.

Consumer speaks

A businesswoman, who spoke with our correspondent from Uselu area of Edo Sate who simply identified herself Madam Beatrice, claimed that most business entities in the state have settled for their generators as the primary source of power supply, while PHCN is the back-up source of power supply.

When contacted, Sam Amadi, Chairman of NERC, told our correspondent that there are processes in dealing with such developments as there is no way his commission can be aware of such situations all over the country.

According to him if the issue gets to the Commission via complains and petitions then it would be taken up by NERC.

He stated further that his Commission had mandated distribution companies nationwide to embark on workshops and sensitisation programme in order to enlighten the public on the new tariff order.

NERC blames distribution companies

Amadi placed the problem of low power voltages on the doorstep of distribution companies and stated that NERC was redirecting its focus on that unit of the power sector, as according to him, corruption cannot be ruled out as a factor.

He said his Commission would also want to investigate if the MYTO funds being disbursed by the market operator to distribution companies was being used for its intended purpose.

However, Vanguard investigations revealed that the nationwide blackout could not have been unconnected with the systems collapse emanating from multiple factors.

The Transmission Company of Nigeria, TCN, had issued a statement recently apologising for the power outage, which cut off power supply to consumers nationwide.

TCN's statement

In that statement by TCN, AGM Public Affairs, Dave Ifabiyi, the immediate cause of the problem was said to be a fault on its 330Kv transmission line from Benin to Onitsha, which was aggravated by the shutdown of Chevrons Escravos Gas Plant.

The incident caused a generation loss of about 3,716 Megawatts and shut down the nation's grid system.

The closure of the Escravos Gas Plant on the Western Gas Network to the Escravos-Lagos Pipeline System alone may reduce the nation's electricity supply by 300Mw for three weeks, even as the Presidential Task Force on Power, in a recent statement, gave the assurance that measures had been taken to reduce the impact of the partial shutdown, which began on November 26.

However, the shutdown had been described as an important and scheduled interruption to enable Chevron tie in wells and lay pipes for sustainable gas supply to the domestic market and the gas-to-liquid plant.

Also, the shutdown of about three of the four units in the nation's largest thermal power plant, Egbin, for maintenance purpose has also been described as a reason behind the massive power outage been experienced nationwide.

Union's reaction

Speaking with Vanguard over the phone, President-General of Senior Staff Association of Electricity Employees, SSAEE, Mr. Bede Opara, corroborated TCN's position that the current national generated capacity is above 4,000, but insisted that other factors might have affected the inability of Nigerians to get adequate power supply at this time.

According to him, the dry season is a factor as there were more demands for electric power due to the heat that accompanies the season.

He also mentioned that the closure of transmission stores by the government, citing fraudulent practices as its reason, could also have affected the system.

He said: "PHCN is a very technical company and there is need for consistent maintenance."

of our equipment nationwide. Thus, if there is a gap as a result of this kind of closure, it affects the system because equipments can't get maintained since it is the stores that house the spare parts.

"Aside from this, you are also aware of the shortage in gas supply to our thermal stations nationwide and the maintenance ongoing at Egbin, which has seen the closure of three of the units, all these must have culminated in the current situation nationwide."

As at 2008, one year into President Umaru Yar'Adua administration, of which President Jonathan was part, power supply dropped to an all-time low, registering an average 1,630 Megawatts (Mw) output from Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN.

By May 29, 2007, when the late President was sworn in, average power generation was in the region of 2,800 Mw. As at that time, average residential expenditure (an estimated 60 million residents use generators of varying sizes) on fuelling power generators has climbed to an all time high of N1.56 trillion (about $13.35 billion) per annum and similar level of expenditure on private power generation has characterised the affairs of industrial and commercial power consumers.

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