By Okafor Akachukwu | 07/10/2016
It is becoming increasingly obvious that those saddled with the responsibility of governing Nigeria’s energy/power system or articulating and implementing a strategic national energy plan starting from the federal ministries of power, petroleum resources, solid minerals development, environment, water resources, finance, budget and national planning, agriculture need to be properly schooled in the work that they should be doing. It is easy to decipher that they are not listening to briefs from experts, not talking to themselves across ministries, departments and agencies or not in touch with developments beyond the shores of Nigeria.
It’s shocking to read the statements allegedly made by Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun this Wednesday in Washington at some World Bank and IMF meetings where she accused western nations of blocking Nigeria’s efforts in building new coal fired power plants. While, I wouldn’t want to go into academics of climate science that led to the new Paris Climate Change Agreement which just a few weeks ago, (at the annual September United Nations General Assembly meetings) Nigeria’s President signed. Our dear Adeosun should have clarified the contents of the agreement before her statements. What she should have said was that Nigeria is blocking Nigeria’s efforts to build new coal fired plants. Our government officials and policy advisers should have informed her or Mr President that signing the Paris Agreement will mean no ‘cheap’ coal power plants for Nigeria – meaning that he may find it difficult to fulfil his electoral promises on delivering constant power to Nigerians by the end of his tenure.
We may have signed the agreement because it’s fashionable – other countries are signing. However, we failed to remember that we do not have the finances and technologies to solve our power challenges the way we prefer if we have no intentions of complying with the Paris Agreement. Else we forget, our ambitious Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the Paris Agreement of cutting 476 million tonnes per year of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions reductions in 2030 was drafted and submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by the current President Buhari’s administration – we should have known better. Probably there was no communication and coordination across government at all levels to know what our national energy plans were, what should go into the INDC and what shouldn’t.
Did our government not know of the of US, UK, other European countries and the World Bank’s clear position to stop funding coal power plants in developing countries since 2013? In fact, the US stopped investing in new coal technology projects since 2011. The last World Bank funding approval for a coal fired plant was in 2010 for a plant in South Africa, which was strongly opposed by the US. The World Bank however is currently discussing a draft new energy strategy that may allow it to finance new coal plants only “in rare circumstances” where there are no alternatives. The Nigerian government should have known better, instead of the blame gaming it should be more focused, coordinated, proactive and innovative and go for other available energy options – if it is interested in solving Nigeria’s power challenges.
The world has moved on, the game has changed and if we don’t want to move with it, or join the game, or beat the game – we get stuck, stuck in darkness and underdevelopment. In the past month alone, there has been increased discussion on how to develop and grow the mini-grids sector (decentralized electricity generation and supply) especially using solar and accelerate investments in these sectors to boost Nigeria’s power supply and solve the energy access problem. For instance the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has been conducting series of consultations around Nigeria on its 2016 Draft Minigrids Regulation, there was an International Finance Corporation (IFC – World Bank) and UK Department for International Development (DFID) workshop in Lagos and Abuja on developing and financing the solar mini-grids market in Nigeria, Power for All also held a workshop for government ministries, departments and agencies on accelerating the growth of Decentralized Renewable Energy (DRE) sector.
The Power for All workshop ended with a five point action plan which were: “1.) The need to Streamline government policies and regulations for the sector, 2.) Eliminate VAT and import duties, 3.) Streamline importation, 4.) Enforce quality and standard, 5.) Build markets – through equitable financing.” Aside these plans and more unmentioned, government should also make it easy for renewable energy funds trapped in various national financial institutions to be accessible to entrepreneurs that have the capabilities to utilize them. The usual argument is that renewable energy is expensive – but compared to what? The fact is that the initial cost of deploying renewable energy technologies and solutions may be expensive but it is far cheaper and affordable for consumers to pay for, cheaper for operators to operate and maintain and delivers enormous economic, social and environmental benefits compared to coal technologies which impacts can be generationally devastating.
A question we should rather be asking ourselves is why did we fail to develop our coal reserves in the past 50 years? Nigeria agreed that coal technology should be phased out when it signed the Paris Agreement and constructing new coal would be contrary to that agreement; hence it should quicken its efforts to harness other energy resources that Nigeria is abundantly endowed with. One thing I know is that no one would block Nigeria from building new gas, hydro, solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and tidal plants.