Lighting up Ondo

Lighting up Ondo

By Kayode Adegbehingbe
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It goes without saying that power generation in Nigeria is in an abysmally poor state. This has not augured well for development at all levels.

With Nigeria in need of about 40,000 MW, a pitiful average of 3,500 MW is being supplied by gas-fired plants and hydro power systems, and lack of availability of gas has left about 9000MW potential power generation unutilised.

The modern world run on power generation which can be through various means, but through long term neglect and poor execution of plans and programmes, most of Nigeria is in the dark most of the time.

It has been noted that up to half of the country have no access to electricity.

However, the Ondo State government has been striving to change that narrative with various interventions. It has opened the door for private investment in the power sector, and have  pulled the needed strings with the Federal Government, especially with regards to intervening in the Southern Senatorial district situation where the people have long been plunged into darkness for many years, largely cut off from the national grid.

One recent example of the government’s numerous interventions in making power available in the state was felt by the people of Plaza area in Akure.

Hitherto, the people had been full of lament for the lack of responsiveness of the Benin Electricity Company to their plight.

According to reports, the governor was taken aback by the lack of availability of electricity in Ibikunoluwa, Bada, Ifelodun and Olorunsogo in Plaza area of Akure, wondering why in the heart of the state capital the blackout has been going on for so long.

They heaved a collective sigh of relief, because, after four years of being in a blackout, the state government intervened by making a 300kVA transformer available to them in March, based on Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu’s  directives to remediate the situation.

The residents of the area rejoiced as their darkness was turned into light.

And rather than wait for salvation to come from the federal government at the center, the government has, with the above steps, sought for various home grown solutions to the problem of power generation and availability in the state.

It is on record that the Ondo State government inaugurated two power generation projects in recent times.

They are 85kw Igbatoro Onigari solar mini-grid power project in Akure North and a scalable 45kw cabin-type mini-grid power project in Gbagira town in Ilaje local government area of Ondo State.

It is instructions that Ondo State is thinking in the direction of solar power generation as a policy thrust.

Because, while India with a population of 1.3billion has reportedly expanded its solar-generation capacity eight times from 2,650 MW on 26 May 2014 to over 20 GW as at 31 January 2018, Nigeria still lags far behind.

Little wonder that in those years India was able to lift many in the country out of poverty while Nigeria was slipping into the state of being the poverty capital of the world.

With the abundant availability of sunlight in the country, it is not good that not enough has been done as a national policy to drive solar power generation in the country. However, Ondo State is beating its own path.

The Ondo state governor, represented by his Special Adviser on Public Utilities, Engr Tunji Light Ariyomo, at the inauguration of Igbatoro Onigari solar power project revealed that another solar power generation project would soon be completed in the state, being established by the Community Energy Social Enterprise, which is setting up a 85kw solar plant in Akure North local government.

The Governor said: “the Ondo State government just last year provided off-grid solar intervention in Ebute-Ipare, Aboto and Igbobini towns through another private firm, Messrs R. R. Reynolds. We are delighted that PIND and A4 and T Solutions have continued this serious business of providing quality 24 /7 electricity for our people using alternative technology.

“Another private firm is building an independent power plant (IPP) that will service government-owned establishments and government-owned residential estates in Akure while another company is building an IPP around Igbokoda to service the community and adjoining areas as well as the university campus in Igodan Lisa.

“We wish to appeal to the people to support all these initiatives by ensuring the protection of the facilities.

“We therefore appeal to the people to ensure prompt payment of their energy bills. It is only by so doing that the respective private companies can recoup their investments and be able to remain in business.”

According to him, in the last two years,  five of such home grown interventions have been established by his administration.

This is like drops in the ocean of the power needs of the people, but its definitely a move in the right direction.

And ramping up its efforts to ensure that the state comes from darkness into light, last month Ugbonla Solar Mini-grid Power Project in Ilaje Local Government Area, under the Phase 1 of the Ondo State Electricity Improvement and Access Scheme was flagged off.

This is part of the plan to put an end to the power problem at Ugbonla and the southern senatorial district of the state as a whole in what the government has tagged Coastal Off-grid Energy Access programme. It is to rewrite the story of the area from that of longterm neglect because of which, the people of the area are light years behind in development.

He said that the people were either never connected to, or had simply been cut off from the national grid for several years.

Some of the advantages he mentioned for the availability of light in that area is that the people who are fishermen and fish sellers would then be able to store their fishes in electricity powered cold rooms and dry them in electricity powered kilns, for cost effective preservation, making the fish safer for consumption.

He made it plain that one of the priorities of the Akeredolu government is the provision of power supply for the people.

Ariyomo, speaking at Ugbonla, said: “We have done similar projects at Aboto, Igbobini, Gbagira, Ebute Ipare and the gari processing SME cluster near Igbatoro in Akure North Local Government Area of the state.

“We know the importance of electricity to these isolated communities in Ondo South and how the lingering power failure has negatively affected their productivity and social life.

“In the communities that we have completed the project, pupils and students can now study at night and this is having great impact on their academic performances.

“So, our people in Ugbonla will likewise experience many such positive impacts on their businesses.”

According to projections, the project is meant to be completed in a few months.

The journey to ensure that the state lights up began long ago at the inception of the administration of Akeredolu, specifically in the provision of off grid solutions to the power problems in the southern senatorial districts.

It was planned, according to the state’s office of public utilities that places like Igbokoda, Obenla, Kiribo, Igbotu, Iyansan near Irele, Iju Odo, Bamikemo, and Lipanu will get the attention of the government. And through competitive bidding, 12 companies were chosen to spearhead the project to set up independent power projects in collaboration with the state government.

Also, last year, the Federal Government awarded contracts to reconstruct damaged power distribution infrastructure in the Ondo South Senatorial District of Ondo State, with places without electricity supply for the past 10 years in some cases, covering over one thousand communities in four local governments of the state.

Ariyomo explained that the governor had declared emergency on electricity in Ondo Southern District.

He said that the plan involves: “direct intervention by the state government as well as grid-tied intervention through federal agencies such as the NDPHC, TCN and NDDC.”

Explaining how far gone the plan of the government is for lighting up the southern senatorial district, Ariyomo said that over 60 percent of houses in some of the affected areas are already enjoying stand-alone solar systems under the auspices of the state’s Small Home Power Utility scheme.

He said “Apart from Igbobini, the government is also currently working in Aboto in Ilaje Local Government Area. Over 80 per cent of the houses in Aboto now have light.

“We are starting with Ebute-Ipare and not too long from now, Igbokoda will be having a major hybrid reciprocating gas engine with a solar farm backup while a dedicated IPP is coming to OSUSTECH to power the university and certain parts of Okitipupa.”

Earlier in 2017, Governor Akeredolu constituted a Technical Team on Independent Power Supply Initiative.

He knows he cannot continue to wait forever for the federal government to come to the rescue.

The team which included: Engineer Tunji  Ariyomo as chairman, Engineer O. J. Adelola, General Manager Ondo State Electricity Board as the secretary, Femi Akarakiri, the Senior Special Assistant – Energy & Mineral Resources, Mr. Ayo Sotirin and Mr Tope Runsewe as members were charged to develop a framework for powering specific locations in the state.

Ariyomo explained, “We are working on the possibility of encouraging private sector driven provision of Independent Power Project for businesses, industries, unconnected communities and government facilities so as to reduce pressure of grid-based demands.

“We are talking to investors who can take over power supplies for our essential services covering streetlights, the State Specialist Hospital, the state secretariat and Government House, and power them.

“National regulation is favourable. If you generate less than 1mw today, you are exempted from licences.

“If an investor does four megawatts or more with an independent licence, we may be able to free more energy for other parts of the state”.

Still on electricity supply in Ondo, in 2018, Governor Akeredolu approved a policy called “Cluster Off-take Unit” or COU policy, to define the legal and financial relationship between mini grid operators and the communities they serve.

This is a laudable initiative and is supposed to put such schemes on a sure footing towards a great future. Such home grown solutions could serve as a template for the rest of the country to follow. By opening the power generation space for different private players, and drawing out the rules of engagement in a way that benefits all parties would engender development and even attract more investments, which is what the state and country is in dire need of.

Ariyomo said that the policy is aimed at organising our communities into legal entities for the purpose of serving as reliable customers or off-takers of electricity products.

He said: “Ondo State is thus the first in the entire federation, for instance, to evolve a clear innovative policy framework that organically ties cluster off-takers to their BVNs and by extension, their biometric details, such that regardless of a tenant’s subsequent address or abode in Nigeria, his electricity bills and debts in Ondo State will remain continuously and perpetually linked to him and to his incomes.”

It is regrettable that while the world is leaping forward in technological advancement, in many places in the country, it has been a never ending struggle for the people to have access to the electricity supply, keeping the people perpetually backwards. This is the reality Governor Akeredolu met on ground and has decided to face squarely, hence the various interventions via aggressive partnership with private investors.

Owena Press Limited (Publisher of The Hope Newspaper), Akure

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