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Expert seeks pragmatic, tech approach to power challenges

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has stated that consumers will not pay for meters in the new guidelines, as it will be added to the electricity tariffs.

The Commissioner, Finance and Management Services, NERC, Nathan Shatti, also explained that customers, who had paid for meters would be compensated by a refund.

However, stakeholders in the sector have faulted this position, saying the government is not sincere in its dealing with the people, as there is no justification for the recent increase in electricity tariff.

They said the only way the increment could be justified is for the NERC to create a non-complex procedure that would allow consumers to sue distribution companies (DisCos) for negligence.

Specifically, Dr. Oladayo Olakanmi of the Department of Electrical/Electronics, Faculty of Technology, University of Ibadan, Oyo State, called for a pragmatic and academic approach to solve the challenges in the power sector.

Olakanmi urged the government to hinge recent development on the Internet of Things (IoT) for effective smart metering, saying that it would reduce the revenue collection overhead, energy theft by consumers, and unnecessary over and under-billing.

He said: “Rather than metering with current meters, distribution companies should go for smart meters capable of monitoring and billing consumers’ usages on a real-time basis. This will reduce the overheads incurred through physical inspection and marketing

“Besides, distribution companies should be up and doing, this can be enforced through government act that empowers consumers to sue disco at will. Provision of transformers shouldn’t be the responsibility of consumers. Any market woman can do what distribution companies are doing.”

Reacting to Shatti’s pronouncement, Olakanmi accused the government of speaking from both sides of the mouth, noting that NERC’s plan is to credit consumers’ energy accounts with certain amounts of units corresponding to the value of the meter.

“This does not justify the unnecessary increment, because consumers will still pay for the meters. At the end of the day, it is going to be a win-win for the DisCos. Is it only meters that the consumers are responsible for? Consumers are the ones buying transformers, poles, even paying for the maintenance of all these electrical components. Meanwhile, all these are justifications for the increment. NERC should look at this, and ensure DisCOs take up their responsibilities. Create a non-complex procedure that will allow consumers to sue DisCos for any of their negligence. Only this can justify this increment.”

On the recent directive by the Presidency that electricity consumers should henceforth pay directly to commercial banks, Olakanmi argued that this will not solve the electricity challenges.

“I can boldly say the government is only trying to be clever by half. Involving commercial banks only allows the government to monitor DisCos revenue; this has nothing to do with problems facing electricity consumers.

“To solve electricity challenges, the government needs to come up with pragmatic and academic approaches that will solve epileptic power supply and metering-related issues.

“For example, epileptic supply needed to be looked at through the decentralisation of power generation. Generating power in Kanji, Shiroro, and transmitting down to the South or from South to the north is one of the major problems. Decentralise generation and forget about the national grid by allowing each state to produce and supply its people will not only solve the power losses in transmission as being experienced now but also localise problem-solving.

Also speaking with The Guardian, the National Coordinator, All Electricity Consumers Protection Forum, Samuel Ilori, criticised the NERC, saying the promise to refund consumers who had already paid for meters is merely to excite the audience.

“The provision in Electric Power Sector Reforms Act 2005, states that all line material costs are embedded in the tariff the people pay and these include meters, transformers, poles and wires, and consumers should not pay for them.

Noting that such a promise was not new, as a similar offer was made in 2016, Ilori urged Nigerians to reject it.

Besides, he added: “This seems like a political statement and I don’t believe in it. DisCos are fond of disobeying the NERC. Even if DisCos are instructed to refund to consumers, they will not listen and the NERC will not sanction them for their disobedience. If they are serious about the directive to refund customers’ money, let them start with CAPMI.”

At take-over, a part of the key performance indicators (KPIs) for the 11 DisCos was to meter at least 1.75 million customers yearly. The assumption was that since the reduction in Aggregate Technical, Commercial, and Collection (ATC&C) was key, mass metering would significantly reduce industry losses.

Seeing that the gap persisted, NERC introduced the Credited Advance Payment for Metering Implementation (CAPMI), due to the high level of complaints on poor quality services to customers and dissatisfaction with estimated billing.

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