*ELECTRICITY SITUATION IN IMO STATE*
*ELECTRIFYING THE RURAL AREAS IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE~DR. ALBERT OKOROGU*
*An interaction with SSA Public Enlightenment to Imo State Governor, Prince Eze Ugochukwu*
*QUESTION* May we know your official designate and your background. Where are you coming from?
*ANS* My name is Dr. Albert Ogugua Okorogu. I am the pioneer Director General/Chief Executive of the newly established Imo State Power & Rural Electrification Agency, abbreviated as I-POREA. I was until recently, the Executive Director, Networks, Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC) Limited, the special purpose vehicle for Nigeria National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP). I have over 25 years of technical and management experience spanning Transmission Management, Power Generation, Alternative/Renewable Energy, Project Management, Energy Economics, Electromagnetics, Satellite/Aerospace Engineering, Advanced Engineering Design and Analyses, Optical communications, Fiber Optics and LASERs. Before my appointment as the Executive Director, NIPP by the former President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, I was a key strategic coordinator who in 2013 leading to 2014, conceptualized, designed and implemented the Operation Light-up Rural Nigeria (OLRN) Initiative, a Sustainable Alternative Energy Rural Electrification Program of the Federal Ministry of Power, based primarily on solar technology, to provide affordable and reliable access to electricity of up to 1 megawatt (MW) per rural community with no connectivity to the national grid in Nigeria. My other engagements were in the United States, primarily in the US Defense both as a senior member of the technical staff and in the executive management positions spanning over 20 years.
*Q* What is the work of the Imo Power and Rural Electrification Agency (I-POREA)?
*ANS* I-POREA was established to enact policies to remove barriers that put electricity generation and supply in the state at economic, regulatory or
institutional disadvantages relative to international best practice in Electricity Supply Industry. The State Government owns 53% of the Agency while the 27 Local Government Areas (LGAs) own 47%. The Agency will exploit the State’s rich endowment with natural gas, huge waste and alternative energy resources to generate power to supplement electricity supply in the state, most especially in the rural areas. Part of its work amongst so many others include: interfacing with all electricity stakeholders in the state to unlock all bottlenecks that have hindered efficient supply of reliable electricity to the citizenry, especially the rural areas; creating an enabling environment for a Private-Public-Partnership (PPP) and attract investments in Independent Power Projects (IPPs); identify quick win/innovative green technology power models suitable for Imo State; work with the Federal Government’s Rural Electrification Agency (REA) to coordinate rural electrification programs in Imo state; support the Federal Government’s Climate Change Obligations under the Paris Agreement with respect to promoting renewables and reducing Carbon Emissions; promote affordable, reliable and sustainable electrification of urban and rural communities in Imo State, in compliance with the Nigeria’s Electricity Regulatory Commission’s (NERC’s) Policies; promote Solar Panel manufacturing and solar electrification through Public and Private sector participation; create Jobs and build capacities in Imo State to spur socio-economic development across Imo State, etc.
*Q* What are your efforts to improve the economic status of the people in the rural areas through electricity supply?
Electricity holds the key to socio-economic development of any society.
*ANS* The first thing we have done as an Agency in our efforts to improve the socio-economic status of the rural dwellers, was to assess the status of current electricity supply in the state. We found that on the average, over 500 communities in Imo State have not had electricity for over 7 years now, mostly due to nonpayment of electricity bills (especially those whose bills were estimated because of non-availability of meters), failed distribution transformers and dilapidated and aged Feeders. In conjunction with the local distribution company, Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC), we have begun the replacement of failed transformers, and so far, have replaced about 79. We have plans to procure much more transformers to fully energize most communities that have been cut off from electricity supply over the years. However, we will soon embark on sensitization tour across the 27 LGAs of the state to sensitize the rural dwellers on the importance of protecting electricity infrastructure, stopping vandalization and paying bills on time to ensure more services are extended to them. For the bill payments via the single or three phase meters for N37,000 and N68,000 respectively, most rural dwellers cannot afford these. The Agency is developing a simplified, universal and affordable meter model for less than N3,000 for rural dwellers.
Electrifying the rural areas of Imo State is of utmost importance, and will be a source of economic and social development that will greatly improve the quality of life, and bring about rapid developments, in line with the government’s bid to rebuild Imo:
It will reduce crime, promote good health and longevity (with the use of efficient electric lighting, toxins such as those from kerosene would be prevented from sickening our citizens). Access to medical services will be improved– refrigeration of vaccines and operation of medical equipment in rural areas will be possible, Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs) will be spurred, and there would be an increase in agriculture productivity, increase in rural dwellers’ income/productivity, improved access to information by rural dwellers: TVs, Cell phones, internets, etc., all of which improve educational achievements/enlightenment, will promote extended learning hours and improve household activities and social gathering/interactions after dark.
*Q* The engine of growth of all sectors of the economy is power supply. What are you doing to enhance power supply in the three urban centres of Owerri, Orlu, and Okigwe?
*ANS* Currently, power supply in Imo State is generally limited by generation shortfall, transmission and distribution infrastructure deficiencies. There are no generation power plants in the State. The only source of power in the State is the 125 MW capacity supplied via the Transmission Company of Nigeria’s (TCN’s) Owerri 132/33 KV substation at Egbu. The Nigeria National Independent Power Projects (NIPP’s) 338 MW gas-fired power plant, started in 2006 in Egbema Imo State, is yet to be completed, years after project initiation. There are limited Transmission grids (or lines) and stations (TS) in Imo State, with limited extension of the grid to most communities, leaving a majority of Imo citizens without access to electricity. The only Transmission lines in operation are the double circuit 132KV lines from the 132/33 KV substation at Egbu’s 2 X 60MVA, 1 X 40MVA, 132/33 KV substation. There are no 330 KV lines. The only 330/132 KV substation is the heavily overloaded Alaoji’s 3 X 150 MVA, 330/132 KV substation in Aba, which also serves Abia, Cross Rivers and Akwa Ibom states. A new 330/132 KV, 2 X 150 MVA substation, with its associated 330K KV line from Alaoji, is under construction, we do not yet have the completion date in view. To date there are four uncompleted Transmission Stations in the State, which would have offered Imo State efficient and reliable supply of electricity, had it been completed and commissioned before now. These stations are the TCN’s Abor Mbaise 2 X 60MVA, Ideato 2 X 60MVA; Okigwe 2 X 30/40MVA, and NIPP’s Orlu 2 X 60MVA.
Aside from exploiting all available electricity generation resources to enhance power in the state’s three major urban areas of Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe, the Agency is working to pluck the low hanging fruits in the state’s electricity supply industry. In the interim, the Agency is seriously pushing and working with TCN to complete and commission, 1). TCN’s Aboh Mbaise Transmission 132KV lines, 2 X 60 MVA Substation and the attendant Feeders emanating from the substation; 2). TCN’s Okigwe Transmission 132KV lines, 2 X 30/40 MVA Substation and the attendant 6 Feeders.
The Abor Mbaise substation will restore electricity supply with over 90% availability, to some parts of Owerri and most communities in and around Mbaise where supply had been either nonexistent and/or limited for years. Studies are ongoing to evaluate a turn-in and out option of the dual circuit 132 KV lines to Abor Mbaise from Alaoji to Owerri, a distance of less than 15 Km. If viable this line would be far more cost effective than the original Owerri to Abor Mbaise line. That of Okigwe will restore electricity supply with over 85% availability, to most communities in Okigwe and Orlu axes, especially Onuimo, Isiala Mbano, Ideato North and South, and parts of Mbaise where supply had also been either nonexistent and/or limited for years. Completion of the Okigwe substation will relief Egbu Transmission Station in Owerri of over 25 MW load, which will greatly improve the reliability of power supply in Owerri axis.
*Q* Power infrastructures and installations in the state are often vandalized by criminals. What strategic plan are you putting in place to curtail this. Do you interface with the security agencies, and local community heads to protect government energy assets?
*ANS* Yes, the Agency will be interfacing with the security agencies and the local community heads. Before the involvement of the security agencies though, the Agency would like to embark on a Sensitization Campaign across the 27 LGAs of the State to create awareness, promote administration and seek citizens’ buy-ins on government programs and activities on electricity supply. We need to educate citizens on electricity situation in the state and what the state government is doing about it: The need to protect electricity assets, stop theft and vandalization and on-time payment of bills to enable provision of more electricity services. We will seize the opportunity of the sensitization campaign to set up a local organizing committee comprising of the LGA Chairman, local councilor, Chief, and two members chosen from the community of interest by the locals. This committee working with our security agencies would readily interface with the community.
*Q* The Imo State secretariat and other government buildings has no public power supply over the last couple of years due to accumulated debts to the electricity company. Any efforts to change this narrative?
*ANS* Yes, a big thanks to His Excellency, Rt. Honorable Emeka Ihedioha, CON, KSC, there is going to be a happy ending to the sad story of the state of electricity supply to the State Secretariat and other government buildings, to say the least! Over the years the bills owed to EEDC has accrued to nearly N100 millions. The State Secretariat alone owes upwards of N40 million to EEDC, resulting in vandalization and thefts of all electricity assets over the years because of the disconnection of electricity to the State Secretariat and other government buildings. Today, the government of Chief Emeka Ihedioha is restoring full electricity supply to all government buildings with bills payment arrangement with EEDC. Today, electricity supply has been fully restored in most government establishments. The Imo State House of Assembly, Imo Water Corporation, Owerri Capital Development Authority (OCDA), State Secretariat, Presidential Guest House and a host of others have electricity restored with solar streetlights for security and perimeter lighting fully installed. The process of electricity restoration is ongoing and will accommodate all local government headquarters in the state.
*Q* Is the demand for electricity in the rural areas strong enough to justify the huge and expensive investments by the government or is it mainly a social service venture by government?
*ANS* It depends on what you mean by “huge and expensive investments”. To start with, the provision of electricity is a basic social service of any responsible government to its people and is the inalienable right of the citizens. So, no investment could be too huge and expensive for any government, if it could afford it. Moreover, these services are paid for by the citizens. It is an investment for the government since they expect some levels of return on their investments.
*Q* There are solar energy systems that can power basic lights and devices, such as radio, television etc. Are you thinking of deploying such systems in public buildings and even business clusters, markets, and other institutions? Is it cost effective?
*ANS* Of course, not just solar energy, but all available energy resources will be exploited to provide not just basic lightings but also sufficient electricity to power homes, businesses and streets. We have embarked on Spatial Electricity Planning (SEP) for the state, reviewing all energy resources to obtain detail analyses of the mode of electricity supply in Imo State. The choice of which technology to use – off-grid standalone, off-grid mini grid, on grid mini grid or grid using any of the green energy resources (solar, solar hybrid, natural gas, waste-to-power, hydro) or conventional thermal electricity, will depend on a number of parameters from socio to techno-economic – 1. Energy resources, 2. Target level of energy access needed by the electricity consumers/off-takers, 3. Population of the consumers in area or community of interest, 4. Distance to the nearest grid/major road, 5. TCN/EEDC grid expansion/extension plan, and 6. Electricity consumers resources and income. These will inform the level of investments needed and give credence to business models that are commercially viable for rural projects.
*Q* Are there plans by your office to take advantage of the abundant natural gas deposits in the state to bring a power plant in Imo State?.
*ANS* Of course. As at today, we have more than ten serious international companies, with local presence in Nigeria, very desirous of exploiting the natural gas in the state to generate captive power to supplement the epileptic power supply in the state. Some are even proposing trucking in compressed natural gas in the interim while they wait for the completion and development/construction of the natural gas pipelines in the Asa and Ohaji/Egema/Oguta axes. We are closing in on negotiation with some of these companies. We shall have full participation of the local distribution company, EEDC in a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) arrangement since their local network could be used to wheel out the generated power, besides controlling, by law the electricity supply industry in the region where the state is located.
*Q* What are the inhibiting factors, laws and other handicaps facing states who wish to build their own power plants solely, or through PPP?
*ANS* Really, I would not say there are bottlenecks on the development of IPPs or PPPs, except for the issue of Tariff, which the regulator, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) is assiduously working hard to address. They are fine-tuning the Tariff, and I believe it will be favorable when they are done.
*Q* There should be renewed activities at the yet to be completed sub-stations at Aboh Mbaise and Ideato South. Are you following up on these, if so what is the situation report?
*ANS* I earlier addressed this issue when you asked what I was doing to enhance power supply in the three urban areas of Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe. But let me give you an update on TCN’s stance on these. From TCN’s recent activity, it appears TCN wants to complete and commission the abandoned projects in the State. They recently called a meeting of all contractors working on TCN’s abandoned Transmission Stations and ordered them back to work. On our part, we are inviting all contractors working on TCN’s projects in the state to come with all documents so the Agency could discuss with them on how to bring these various projects to completion. The continued delay in completing these projects is holding the state hostage and stagnating our socio-economic development. The sooner we complete these projects the better for the state.
*Q*Finally, what are your visions for Imo State and her energy infrastructural needs?
*ANS* Frankly, the vision of the Agency is in line with the very core vision of His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, who in his superlative wisdom knew that the only way to lift Imo State out of the shackles of darkness was to create a unique power agency to provide the citizenry with reliable electricity. In his rebuild Imo agenda, His Excellency has made it clear he would like to see an Imo State where moribund industries without access to the national grid are resuscitated and fully connected by means of Operation Lightup Imo State Initiative of I-POREA. An Imo State that is digitally empowered and the Tech Hub of Nigeria because of availability of electricity, leading Nigeria in the fourth industrial revolution – robotics and Internet of Things.
His vision for Imo State is that state, through enabling environment, that creates SPVs for IPP and PPP with investors participation. A state where at least 1000MW is generated from Grid/IPP/PPP/Alternative Energy to fully industrialize Imo state, and fully privatize the electricity market. A state where at least hundreds of SMEs and thousands of cottage industries are spurred, where reliable access to electricity to thousands of schools and health clinics are provided. A state where thousands of jobs are created in the electricity supply chain and several thousands of Tons of carbon dioxide are avoided with earned carbon credit. We, at I-POREA, align ourselves with the vision of His Excellency and enjoin him in the Operation Lightup Imo State Initiative.
I know talk is cheap but the journey to a million miles begins with a single step. His Excellency, Rt, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, the amiable and action Governor of Imo State has taken that step! He has created I-POREA! Let’s enjoin him in the Operation Lightup Imo State Initiative! Let’s “Light A Village, Empower, Change and Impact Life” Light A Life!