Chineme Okafor, writes that the disputes between operators in Nigeria’s electricity market have never really been all about making sure majority of power consumers in the country are satisfied by the electricity service they get
Nigeria’s power market is synonymous with a new profile other than its well-recognised poor service delivery. Today the electricity market is dominated by frequent operators’ bickering.
In a somewhat recurrent practice, the sector has been subjected to unending quarrels amongst its key operators – notably between the 11 electricity distribution companies (Disco) and Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN, as well as between the power generation companies (Gencos) and Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET).
But each time the operators go at each other, it has however never really been about satisfying consumers who have from records had to deal with poor service delivery from the market. It has mostly been about their desire to either have more power go out of their generation systems, or less come into the distribution network for reasons best known to them.
And while this persists, a new report from the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has disclosed that electricity consumers in the country are not having it easy with service deliveries to them. It explained that the level of service complaints lodged by consumers have rather continued to increase in a clear indication of service discontent.
A market beset with quarrels
Based on another report from the Advisory Power Team in the Office of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Nigeria’s power supply has remained on a steady decline over the last three months of July, August and September, with average daily supply from the national grid to homes and offices in the country falling to 3473 megawatts (MW) in September.
The report, which was reviewed by THISDAY, came at a period the sector’s key operators engaged in intense forms of fight over their interests.
However, the industry statistics showed that within the three months, average daily power generated and distributed was a meagre 3557MW.
A breakdown of this showed that in July, average daily supply to Nigerians was 3676MW, which dropped to 3526MW in August, and further down to 3473MW in September.
Osinbajo’s office also noted that within the period, the average volume of constrained electricity – that is electricity that could not get to homes and offices due to various challenges such as low gas supply; unavailability of transmission and distribution infrastructure; as well as water management challenges, was 4013MW daily.
It explained that in July, the volume of constrained power was 3872MW. This, however, rose to 4020MW in August and further to 4147MW in September, as a result of which N57.619 billion; N59.820 billion and N59.714 billion were respectively not earned by the sector within the three months period.
In details, through a 10-day power production assessment THISDAY did for the three months under consideration, it observed that the country could not produce up to the 4000MW customary production figure government official often quoted as average daily power production level of the country.
For example, on July 1, it was observed that the available volume of power to the grid was 3526Mw which rose to 3830MW on July 10, but subsequently down to 3645MW before closing the month on a 3750MW generation level.
On August 1, it was down to 3733MW and further to 3482MW on August 10, and then 3673MW and 3361MW on August 20 and 31.
By September 1, power on the grid dropped to 3176MW and then up to 3637MW on September 10, before falling to 3595MW on September 20 and then ending the month on a paltry 3380MW production level.
Osinbajo’s office in this regard reiterated that the constraints to improved power supply in the country were insufficient gas supply, poor distribution and transmission infrastructure.
“On September 30, 2019, average energy sent out was 3,380MWH/Hour (down by 162.02MWH/Hour from the previous day) 1911MW was not generated due to unavailability of gas. 112.5MW was not generated due to unavailability of transmission infrastructure, while 1,776MW was not generated due to high frequency resulting from unavailability of distribution infrastructure.,” said the report from Osinbajo’s office.
However, within this period, the country witnessed an intensity of quarrel between the Discos TCN over alleged mismanagement of electricity loads.
The TCN had repeatedly accused the Discos of rejecting loads allocated to them because they lacked the capacity to distribute as much electricity as possibly generated to the grid by the Gencos. It also said the Discos through their alleged load rejection practices often endanger its transmission facilities, a charge the Discos disputed and claimed the TCN had dysfunctional transmission infrastructure.
The Gencos equally quarreled with the NBET, and alleged the agency unilaterally imposed a 0.75 per cent levy on them as administrative charges for paying their gas invoices.
The Gencos equally claimed the NBET had made efforts to takeover payment of their gas invoices as a condition for them to benefit from a new N600 billion intervention package from the federal government, while their monthly earnings for power produced for the grid further dwindled.
Consumers Bear Burden
With the disagreements ongoing, the NERC in its report of activities in the industry within the first quarter of 2019 (Q1) explained that complaints from electricity consumers for poor services increased from the level it was in the last quarter of 2018.
It said the 11 Discos received a total of 151,938 complaints during the first quarter as against 136,393 complaints received in the fourth quarter of 2018.
According to it, during the same period, Ikeja Disco had the highest number of complaints, while Yola Disco recorded the lowest customer complaints.
The NERC noted that the Discos’ customer complaints centered on service interruption, poor voltage, load shedding, metering, estimated billing, disconnection, and delayed connection, among others.
“During the quarter under review, all the Discos received several numbers of complaints on each of the aforementioned key issues. The number of complaints on metering and billing increased during the first quarter of 2019 and still dominates the customer complaints,” said NERC.
The commission explained that metering and billing accounted for 61 per cent or 92,626 of the total complaints received during the quarter under review as against 47 per cent or 63,791 recorded in the fourth quarter of 2018.
“This implies that, on average, 1029 customers complained about metering and billing per day in the first quarter of 2019.
“Another issue of serious concern is service interruption, accounting for 8.5 per cent (i.e. 12,920) of the total customer complaints received during the quarter under review,” it added.
To address customers’ complaints, the NERC informed that on a continuous basis, it monitors the complaint handling and resolution process adopted by Discos.
It said: “Specifically, the commission followed-up on the audit exercise of the 11 Discos’ compliance to service standards that were conducted during the year 2018, by reviewing the reports of the exercise.
“The commission has resolved that all Discos should henceforth submit their customers’ complaints reports on a monthly basis. It further directed that the customer complaints handling software being introduced by Discos should be subjected to a dry run for performance assessment.”
According to it, a continuous strive to improve on the operation of its Forum Offices which are set up to adjudicate on consumers’ complaints that are not adequately resolved to the satisfaction of consumers by the responsible Discos would also be pursued.
It added that as at the end of the first quarter of 2019, it had established 30 Forum Offices for effective adjudication of customer complaints and urged consumers to make the most of the opportunity to get redress for poor electricity service delivery.
“In addition, in line with its 2017-2020 strategic plan, the commission continue to monitor the implementation of the Meter Asset Provider Regulation which is designed to address the metering gap and eliminate estimated billing in NESI (Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry),” the NERC said with regards to the Disco’s installation of meter at the premises of consumers under their networks.