The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola SAN, have directed the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to immediately step in to ensure that Electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos) improve on their distribution equipment and increase capacity to enable them optimize the use of electrical resources by the Generation Companies (GenCos).
Fashola, who spoke at a Press Briefing on the “Power Sector State of Play, Next Steps and Policy Directives”, also directed NERC to enforce the contract of DisCos to supply meters and act to ensure the urgent speedy supply and installation of meters with a view to eliminating estimated billing and promote efficient industry and market structures.
The Minister, who said the improvement in their distribution equipment and increase in capacity would enable the DisCos take up the available 2,000MW difference between the generation capacity of the GenCos and the distribution capacity of the DisCos, also directed the Regulatory Commission to stop DisCos from threatening private entrepreneurs from entering the market to supply consumers whom they are unable to supply.
Instead, according the Minister, such entrepreneurs should be licensed by the Commission subject to its terms and conditions “in order to promote competition and private sector participation and avoid a private monopoly of power”, adding that as clearly stated in Section 71(6) of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act (EPSRA) dealing with Terms and Conditions of licenses, “no exclusivity or monopoly was intended for a license holder such as GenCos or DisCos”.
The aforementioned Section states that, “Unless expressly indicated in the license, the grant of a license shall not hinder or restrict the grant of a license to another person for a like purpose and, in the absence of such an express indication, the licensee shall not claim any exclusivity, provided that the commission may allow a licensed activity to be exclusive for all or part of the period of the license for a specific purpose, for a geographical area, or for some combination of the foregoing”.
Noting that the Regulatory Commission has not issued any such exclusive license to any DisCo, Fashola declared, “If we take into consideration that, after five years of privatization, there are still people and businesses who do not have power or enough power, common sense and public interest demands that we must not resist ordinary people, small businesses like shops and markets from seeking alternative sources of energy”.
“The truth is that they already have these sources of alternative energy, in small petrol and diesel generators that cost them about N100 per kilowatt hour. If the DISCOs are not resisting the generator sellers who are contributing to pollution, what is the logic of resisting small entrepreneurs bringing mini gas plants to supply a market need?”, the Minister argued, pointing out that for now, the nation’s developmental needs could not wait “for businessmen who are not yet ready to serve”.
Urging NERC “to act with dispatch”, Fashola said the stated policy statements were made in the National interest, public good, the need to support small businesses, provide access to power for ordinary people and increase productivity adding, however, that although he was not unmindful of concerns about loss of market or customers by DISCOs such concerns must be balanced against national interest and that with improvement in their businesses, they would be in a position to use their economies of scale of large volumes of power to buy out or out-price the small entrepreneurs.
The Minister implored members of the public who seek more information “to get a copy of EPSRA and read its simple provisions”, adding that the Act confers extensive regulatory powers on NERC “including the power in Sections 73 and 74, to amend or cancel a license if the licensee is unable to discharge the duties and obligations imposed by the license”.
Fashola also directed NBET, the bulk trader, to work with Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), to fashion out ways to ensure that the DisCos improve their collection remittance and also start to pay their debts saying this would help to promote stability in the Sector. “This business cannot progress if debtors do not pay their debts”, he said.
Stating, however, that it is neither his intention nor that of Government to take over the business of the DisCos, the Minister declared, “On the contrary, it is Government’s desire to see DISCOs thrive and flourish in a competitive environment”, adding, “In the period when they are not yet ready, willing, or able, life must go on and we must find solutions and substitutes as we have seen in other sectors”.
Such sectors, he said, include the Broadcasting, Newspaper and Telecommunication Sectors where, according to him, “those who could not compete conceded and left the stage gloriously without breaking down the system”, while those who could compete have brought better living conditions to Nigerians.