Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
With the relentless assault on gas pipelines by the Niger Delta militants, it is not surprising that the entire country has been plunged into darkness as a result of the massive shortage of gas to the power plants.
The 2000 megawatts (MW), which the Federal Government intended to add to the national grid by July, 2016, is threatened. The operations of the power generating (Gencos) and distribution companies (Discos) have been hampered. Electricity consumers are left in desperation and hopelessness.
The militants have, so far, blown up 23 pipelines, as the national grid recorded eight system collapses in one month. There is shortage of gas supply to 25 thermal stations across the country, which has drastically impacted on power generation now put at about 2,903, as against the installed generating capacity of 10,000 MW.
The estimate by the Discos that the country requires an estimated140, 000 MW generation output may now be .a dream beyond fulfillment. Already, the low output manifesting in national blackout has crippled businesses across the country and this has worsened the quality of life for the citizenry.
There is no doubt that the gas-to-power strategy remains a daunting challenge. The end to militancy is not in sight. The only way out is to devise alternative power plan that places less premium on gas.
Surprisingly, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is reportedly working on a new gas scheme that is expected to deliver about 70 per cent of the feedstock required by the power plants. The scheme is expected to add a total of 855 million standard cubic feet of gas to the domestic gas supply projects.
But is the gas not coming from the same Niger Delta? What is the rationale for doing this? Is it not a blind adventure to still bank on gas?
According to the Director of the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), Sunday Oduntan, concerns are high that the spate of attacks by the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) may jeopardize the plans upon which all projections were made.
For instance, the 11 Discos are already lamenting the poor power generation, which has adversely affected delivery. They blame the near total power outage on the low energy from the national grid even as consumers lament. The Discos suffer shortfall in their revenue, as most consumers refuse to pay the outrageous electric bills.
Whatever may be the case, the. Government must seek other ways of making power available in the country. The development of hydro energy would greatly boost power supply but this, however, requires political will on the part of the government.
Unfortunately, the three major hydro power stations at Kainji, Jebba and Shiroro, have been poorly managed. The dams were virtually abandoned without maintenance for a long time leading to gross reduction in their output. That explains why the dams could not provide minimal power in the face of failure of the gas plants.
Apart from hydro power, the other alternatives include solar, wind and coal. Government has also expressed interest in energy from biofuels. Anyway, a well structured power supply mix is needed to stem the problem.
The assertion by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, that solar energy is more expensive than the other types of energy however needs to be interrogated.
Many industrialized countries have installed large solar capacity into their national grid to supplement conventional energy. The three largest solar power systems, with capacity to produce 1,477 MW are located in Southern California’s Mojave Desert in USA.
Several other countries in Asia, Europe and North America have also adopted solar power as a viable option. In sub-Saharan Africa, only South Africa is in the league of solar energy countries, gearing to reach an installed capacity of 8, 400 MW by 2030. Sadly enough, Nigeria has none and is showing little or will to adopt the energy as an option.
Solar energy cannot be the most expensive source of energy and yet has worldwide acceptance. It is high time that Nigeria reorders her priority, especially, on this matter of energy supply.
Blowing up gas pipelines has become the pasttime of the militants and the political under-currents of the assaults need to be addressed. It’s a problem that has arisen because Nigeria is a wobbly federation.
Even as immediate solutions are being sought to the energy challenges, the government of the day must re-examine the structure of the country and put in place a system that works.