Solar-powered plant makes more sense
The recent decision by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to build a massive gas-powered plant in Maiduguri makes no sense in light of the reason given for it. According to the NNPC Group Managing Director, Mele Kyari, the idea is to address challenges in electricity supply caused by incessant Boko Haram attacks. In evaluating this decision, several questions have come up: What will stop the insurgents from blowing up the plant when it is completed? Where will the gas supply to run the plant come from and at what cost to the operators? Who will fund the project and what market value in terms of demand and supply to convince potential investors to buy into it?
It is true that Boko Haram insurgents have constantly blown-up systems that supply electricity to the town even after they are fixed by the country's power suppliers. The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) especially has spent so much money fixing its lines whenever they are blown up. Most of the time, Maiduguri and its environs are cut-off from the national grid, and when power supply is restored, it often does not also last long before the terrorists strike. Yet this is not good enough reason for the NNPC to invest in new gas-powered electricity plant in the city. The economics for such investment must be right.
Despite its attachment to the government, NNPC should be meticulous with the political promises it makes. Coming up with wasteful projects that are designed to fritter away scarce resources should not be associated with the corporation especially in lean times. Kyari, in his promise to Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum, claims that in three to four months, the dedicated plant will be ready to serve the current needs of Maiduguri and potentially that of neighbouring cities and even countries. How does he hope to accomplish this and what market survey has he done to guarantee its sustainability?
Some of the country's gas power plants that are closer to supply sources in the Niger Delta do not have steady gas flow to run, but Kyari envisages that the proposed Maiduguri plant will have stable supply. He also talked about the commitment of stakeholders such as gas suppliers and distribution companies (Discos) to the project. Who are these stakeholders and what are they bringing to the table? This is particularly important in light of Kyari's avowed commitment to transparency and accountability in the management of NNPC's affairs. Has this project been competitively procured or vetted by the country's public procurement office?
If the NNPC is considerate to the power supply situation of Maiduguri and is looking for potentially good options to express this concern, then it should look towards solar power sources which the north has in abundance. To buttress the solar power potential of the north, a 2018 survey of the World Bank on the solar photovoltaic power potential of Nigeria showed that the region has very promising solar irradiation levels which could be exploited to economically provide decentralised clean and stable electricity to towns and villages with minimal or no impacts in most cases from the activities of insurgents. The corporation can partner with local solar power companies to quickly deploy solutions that will maximise the free solar resource of Maiduguri. Such solutions are also easily scalable.
Additionally, the three major hydro power stations producing power in Nigeria today are in the north; dedicated volumes of electricity could be sent from them to Maiduguri and environs through alternative safer transmission routes than expending the country's limited funds to build new gas-powered plants.