Instability, High Accident Rates Overshadow Discos’ Operations

Some four years after the privatisation of the 11 electricity distribution companies (Discos), electricity supply to homes and businesses across Nigeria has remained unstable and often unsafe, writes Chineme Okafor

The result of almost consumers’ satisfaction surveys conducted on the performances of the 11 Discos created from defunct PHCN, was below expectations.
From very poor commitments to customers’ metering to unfair estimated billings, power outages, as well as unsafe and inefficient networks, it is evident that the performances of the Discos have hardly improved to attract high approval ratings from consumers.
Almost four years down the power privatisation aisle, the relationship between the Discos and their customers have been unpleasant and suspicious.

While customers have, from records, claimed that operational changes pledged by the Discos upon their take-over of the networks have been insignificant, Discos have on the other hand accused their customers of failing to remain honest users of their services.
From records, the power generation level of the country at the time the privatisation exercise was concluded in 2013 was about 3,800 megawatts (MW).

This has, however, risen and now hovers around 4,000MW, with available capacity hitting 8,500MW, courtesy of capacity expansion investments made by the generation companies (Gencos).
Also on the transmission end, which is still in the hands of the government, wheeling capacity has not really gone beyond 5,000MW.
Even though the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) frequently claims otherwise, the highest, the grid has been able to transmit so far has been a momentary 5074MW generated in February 2016, while the Discos have yet to improve on their distribution capacity of 4000MW.

Unfulfilled performance agreements
Before taking over their networks, preferred bidders of the Discos signed performance agreements with the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) in which they made commitments to reduce their Aggregate Technical, Commercial and Collection (ATC&C) losses by certain constant percentages over a five-year period.
They also committed to provide metering facilities to their customers; phase out estimated billing of consumers; and generally upgrade their networks to reduce accidents, and expand their reach to unconnected consumers within their networks.

However, pointers from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) indicate these agreements have largely been flouted by the Discos.
At the last count, the NERC had issued warning orders to the Discos, intimating them of its intention to commence regulatory actions against their failures to live up to the letters of their agreement with the BPE. The regulator had recently disclosed that it would be forced to disband the boards of the Discos on the basis of their operational failures.

Rainfall and poor power supply
Traditionally, heavy rains and bad weathers are not friendly to electricity distribution networks.
They often disrupt distribution facilities, thus making mess of weak distribution assets, which most of the Discos currently have in their networks.
In Nigeria, early and late rains have often resulted to prolonged and incessant power outages, indicative of unstable distribution and transmission networks.

This is, however, in addition to the lingering metering challenges confronting the Discos and their consumers.
It was, however, expected that privatisation would minimise these seasonal occurrences as experts had attributed the constant power outages experienced during the rains to aged and poorly maintained distribution networks of the Discos.

These experts equally indicted the regulatory authority for systematically ignoring for too long, the Discos’ poor performance and failures to improve their infrastructure, thus leading to frequent power outages and accidents.
Allegedly, the NERC has equally played soft on the Discos’ slow-paced execution of their metering plans.

In Abuja for example, consumers in the Disco’s Dutse Alhaji business area told THISDAY that the Disco was in the habit of violating NERC’s estimated billing methodology in its monthly bills to them.
They claimed their bills are repeatedly hiked but the Disco denied such practice, stating that it had often restricted its estimated billing to the methodology approved by NERC.

Similarly, other residential customers in the Nyanya area of the Disco’s network, told the paper that they could predict the status of their supplies whenever the rains were on.
Experts alleged that Gencos, by practice, do not turn off their plants whenever it rained, thus inferring that such downtimes were either distribution or transmission issues.
Some of the Gencos also complained of frequent requests on them to scale down their generation levels to accommodate the Discos’ inadequacies.

They stated that such requests from the System Operations department of the TCN means that they now operate below their respective ideal production levels.
They equally stated that the frequent requests are not in their favour commercially and technically, especially on the back of the impacts on their plants.

Electrical accidents on the upswing
In addition to the poor service deliveries, the Discos have also failed to curtail the frequency of accidents recorded in the sector since they took over operatorship of their networks.
While a significant aspect of power distribution system has remained the ability of operators to deliver safe and reliable electricity to end users, this has not always been the case for the Discos.

Within the period of the Discos’ takeover, reports indicated that over 80 per cent of the accidents that have occurred in their respective networks have been traced to faulty installations or human negligence to assigned duties.
According to the monthly accident reports of the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA), the Discos have frequently failed to pay optimum attention to the danger their faulty distribution infrastructure portend to the lives of their customers.

In its March 2017 safety performance report, the NEMSA indicated that 14 electrocutions and nine injuries occurred within seven Discos, but only four Discos recorded and reported the accidents within the period.

It also informed that the accidents occurred from failure of system protection equipment; total absence of protection devices; as well as poor response to networks faults; terminations; and poor maintenance of aging distribution assets.
NEMSA equally linked vandalism and ignorance of operators and electricity consumers to the rising electricity accidents in the Discos’ networks.

Also in its April, 2017 report, NEMSA stated that the electrocution figure had risen to an all-time figure of over 20 deaths within the year. It explained for instance that on April 20, about 30 persons were reportedly electrocuted and 18 others injured at a football viewing centre in a community in Calabar, Cross River State when a high-tension cable of Port Harcourt Disco fell on the building at night.

Within the same month, NEMSA stated that a family of three was electrocuted in Nyanya Village in Abuja when cable snap. In all of these, the NERC had not issued any form of query or sanction on the Discos involved.
Similar electrocutions had happened in 2016 in Enugu when 14 were electrocuted and five others injured, while another three persons died in Lugbe area of Abuja.

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