Kaduna, Port Harcourt and Abuja — Construction of the biggest power plant in the North has run into fresh troubles that have forced the suspension of the transportation of the seven remaining turbines from Onne Port in Rivers State to Kaduna, the home of the project.
The project for a 215 megawatt plant is already three years on, having being awarded in November 2009 to General Electric and Rockson Engineering with a December 2013 completion deadline.
Just when the contractors had overcome a two-year difficulty in transporting the turbines with two special trucks imported for those purposes, new hurdles have arisen after the trucks made the first trip to Kaduna last month.
It took a great deal of time to get the government to repair the road and reinforce the bridges along the way from Onne to Kaduna before the trucks set out for the first journey in February, completing it in one week on March 4.
But the heavy equipment may have taken its toll on the 950-kilometre road. Daily Trust gathered that some sections of the road had crumbled and as such the trucks and the heavy-duty load may not be able to run on it smoothly again.
As a result the remaining seven sets of the turbines are now trapped at the Onne Port.
The Kaduna power project was conceived as part of efforts to revive industries that folded up as a result of unstable power supply. Its scope included manufacture and supply of eight General Electric Frame 5 Dual Fuel Gas Turbines in Italy and shipment to Nigeria as well as the design, engineering, procurement of the balance of the plant, installation, construction, testing and coming of the whole project.
When the contract was awarded in 2009, the planners appeared not to have reckoned with nature of Nigerian roads as the shipment of the turbines was done without any thought on how they would be transported to Kaduna.
It was only when the equipment arrived at the port in Onne, Rivers State, more than two years ago that authorities and contractors began to worry about how to bring them up North.
"The turbines are very heavy and the roads are too bad and the bridges along the way too weak to carry the vehicles that will transport them," a source involved with the project told Daily Trust late last year, reported in its December 10, 2012 edition.
At a point, the option of flying the turbines by a special Russian plane was mulled but was this considered to be too expensive.
The Federal Ministry of Works then pledged to fix the roads within six weeks at a much cheaper cost than hiring the Russian plane, but it took many more months for the transportation to start in February this year.
A source told our correspondent that movement of the equipment has now stalled because apart from the roadways that have now developed new potholes, all the bridges that were previously fixed have shown sign of stress.
"Initially what was delaying the turbines was the wheel of the special trucks used for the transportation of the first set of the turbine," the source said.
"When they brought the turbines, the transporter left the wheels in Kaduna because the turbines were resting on them. They have since taken them to the port but what is delaying the turbines now is that the part of the road that was fixed is now bad. This is why some of us preferred the use of the special Russian jet."
Speaking to Daily Trust at the site of the power plant, lead consultant of the project Engineer Smart Ukauwa said last week, "The road failed us at Onne and this is why the remaining turbines are yet to arrive. We are working hard to meet the December deadline. Come back in two weeks time, I will give you good update."
A source at the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) told Daily Trust in Port Harcourt that the agency is working towards fixing the roads for the second time. The route, according to the source, includes the Enugu-Port Harcourt dual carriageway, Enugu 9th Mile corner-Obollo Afor-Otukpo-Ajaokuta road, Lokoja-Abuja road and Abuja-Kaduna expressway.
Efforts to speak with the management of Rockson Engineering on the evacuation of the machines proved abortive. Our reporter was denied access to the company's Trans Amadi Industrial Layout office in Port Harcourt when he visited.
The Power Ministry in Abuja, for its part, declined to make comments on this matter. But an official explained the problem thus: "Each turbine weighs from 90 to 100 tons. If it gets stuck in a pot hole, nothing can bring it out due to its sheer weight. This is why it's important that the project team evaluates the roads again and again after each trip to ensure the road is suitable for another round.
"It must be ensured that the fresh bad portions of the roads are fixed for a smooth movement. These steps take time. Since the movement of the turbines has started, I do not think there's any reason to fear that it will be stopped."
In December, Daily Trust reported that the problem with the Kaduna power project is not with the transportation of the equipment alone but also with fuelling the plant.
The plant is to be powered with LPFO to be sourced from the Kaduna refinery, but it was later found out that the LPFO produced in Kaduna is of low quality and could damage the equipment.
"Therefore the fuel has to be imported and brought to Kaduna from the seaports by tankers since the pipelines are also problematic. The plant will require 30 fuel tankers per day to work at full capacity," a source had said.