Reflections from Maine: Energy, Environment, Climate Change and Rights – 1

By Okafor Akachukwu 11/10/2017

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Maine is not popular with many people from Nigeria and Africa who visit for education, business or tourism or among many Nigerians living in the United States. It is officially the whitest state in the United States. Even amongst Americans it is not very popular, yet the most Northeastern state in the United State is well known for its lobster, lumber, pulp and paper industry, maritime history, rocky coastlines, beautiful spruce islands of Acadia National Park the northeastern most United States state known for its lobster, lumber, pulp and paper industry, maritime history, rocky coastlines, spruce islands of Acadia National Park. It has the 4th longest coastline in the US, 2nd after Florida on the East Coast and longer than the coastline of California.

As much as these are interesting features that may attract you to visit Maine someday, my six weeks of public management training at the University of Maine as a Mandela Washington Fellow which offered me extensive and diverse engagement across the state left me with much to reflect upon. Within the contexts of energy, environment, climate change governance and the politics of rights, sovereignty and movements, I found deep similarities with the struggles we face here in Nigeria and others that we may soon start facing.

Maine is 97% forested, being the largest forested area in the US with a once thriving lumber, pulp and paper industry. Its economy grew, citizens prospered as the jobs rolled in, while its rivers, environment and biodiversity suffered tremendously pollution and extinction from the growth and prosperity. The Penobscot River (the longest river in Maine) was used for log driving, a practice that meant that people couldn’t use the river for transportation, fishing and other forms of sustenance and recreation. Soon dams were built to control the flow of the river for better log driving and as hydroelectricity become the choice for electricity production, more sections of the river were dammed to power the paper mills. These dams became obstructions that endangered 11 species of migratory fish particularly the Atlantic Salmon to the Penobscot River. The livelihood of the Penobscot Indian Nation was threatened. The chemical waste from the paper mills caused even more problems, the remaining fishes in the river died, those that survived and adapted had chemical concentrations that were unsafe for human consumption. The rivers of Maine fast became stenches.

By the 1960s, Androscoggin River had become one of the most polluted rivers in the United States from the toxic chemicals discharged from paper mills and other industries on its bank. However, with the Clean Water Act legislation, clean ups started. The Clean Water Act protected rivers in the United States from further pollution but didn’t reverse the impact on the biodiversity particularly the fishes. The dams along the Penobscot River provided cheap electricity for Maine while the extinction of migratory fishes remained a huge concern., Fortunately the purchase of all the dams by a power company in 1999 provided an opening through an innovative river restoration project called the Penobscot River Restoration Project to rebalance fisheries population, plus hydropower production in Maine’s largest watershed.

The Penobscot River Restoration Project was designed to explore the development of a comprehensive solution to many issues regarding hydropower relicensing, migratory fish passage and ecological restoration on the Penobscot River. Two dams –  Great works Dam and Veazie Dam were removed, Howland dam was decommissioned and a fish bypass channel constructed. Power production was increased at six other sites, and fish passages improved at four dams. June 2016 marked the completion of this most innovative and unprecedented restoration project in the history of the United States which was achieved through painstaking commitment and exceptional collaborative effort among diverse stakeholders including the Penobscot Indian Nation, 7 conservation groups, 2 hydropower companies and several state and federal agencies. The tours of these dams and interactions with some of the actors that made the restoration possible caused me to think of what can be possible in Nigeria, the opportunities we are missing in finding solutions to environmental problems we face as and the growing concerns that we may be causing irreversible damage to our environment, biodiversity and ecosystem.

In Nigeria, the challenge is usually how to strike a balance amongst diverse competing interests and still achieve desired results. The Niger Delta has witnessed one of the most devastating environmental oil pollution in human history in the pursuit of energy resources that many argue has become a curse for Nigeria, while stakeholders are yet to devise a solution causing more harm to our environment, biodiversity and ecosystem. Just, like the Penobscot Indian Nation people, the people in the Niger Delta cannot benefit from its waters and land until it can effectively mobilize her people under one strong voice to demand restoration of its waters and land. Unfortunately, the riches of her land have continuously been used without the actualization of a restoration project. Yet government and policy makers are relying on her vast gas resources to significantly increase Nigeria’s deficient electricity generation capacity. On another note, government’s interest to increase Nigeria’s electricity output through coal power has started to create water and environmental pollution in the states where coal is being mined. What has proven difficult over the years or impossible is for government and the private business sector to prioritize the environment above tax revenues and profits. By their nature and structure, they cannot have the interest to protect the environment more than the people and communities that own these rivers and lands that are exploited and polluted, for whom these are their homes and sources of living. On another hand, these communities, civil societies and environmental groups are yet to learn how to build effective movements and collaborations to take on the huge challenges including fighting against these profitable and corrupt structures.

The devastation that dams have caused to the environment is well researched and known, however government is unwaveringly interested in financing large hydro projects – it has commissioned some of which are more than 10 years in construction and still plans on building more for both agricultural and hydroelectric purposes. It is uncertain how these dams will adversely affect the environment and biodiversity and impact on climate change. The rights and livelihoods of the local communities and other ecological concerns where these dams are sited are not given considerate priority. With chemical pollution of water bodies, land, and destruction of ecosystems from coal mining and dams one wonders how these communities will survive, especially in the coming years with severe climate change and the impacts of drought, and dwindling water resources. The expected result will be a destabilization which will converge with climate change impacts in addition to other human induced and naturally occurring events that will defy immediate and lasting remedies.

With the Niger Delta, the worst is yet to happen as the region is still polluted, with no infrastructure in place and no significant efforts to fix these problems even as the world is signaling an end to the use of fossil fuels in the next few decades to help fight climate change. So where will the resources to fix, remedy and restore the ecosystem in Niger Delta and communities where coal is currently being mined come from? Where will the will power and commitment come from? Will there ever be a moral burden or committed resolve to solve the problem? How can we lead strong and effective collaborative efforts to follow through innovative restoration projects such as the Penobscot River Restoration Project? These are questions we must urgently find answers to.

 

Okafor Akachukwu is a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow (Public Management, University of Maine) and a Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex trained Energy Policy, Innovation and Sustainability Expert. Email: akachukwu_okafor@yahoo.com

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Lessons for Nigeria from Kenya’s Solar Ecosystem

By Okafor Akachukwu 30/05/2017

Kenya Solar

Kenya’s renewable energy market and ecosystem particularly for solar energy (off grid solar PV and solar home systems) is unarguably the most successful in sub-Saharan Africa and the world. It has one of the largest per capita markets in the world – its level of product development, penetration and growth, consumer base, use of innovative solutions especially smart metering and mobile payment systems, and efficient customer service has remained a subject of learning in the sector, particularly for other African countries.

In a previous article, I highlighted Nigeria’s poor energy policy environment compared to the other 110 countries that were studied for the Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy (RISE) report. What I did not highlight is that Kenya is the only sub-Saharan African country that scored tops for all three categories – energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy. The other countries in the developing world that scored highly in the three categories were India and Sri Lanka. Compared to Nigeria’s overall score of 22, 11 and 29 for energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy respectively, Kenya’s scores are 82, 48 and 63 respectively. Easily observed is the fact that Kenya’s phenomenal solar market development is reflective of a good and enabling sustainable energy policy environment. What this means is that the huge success of Kenya’s solar market is a result of deliberate government and development sector policy interventions that align and connect with other market interventions and activities.

This corroborates the findings of a research team at Sussex Energy Group (Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom) which provided a clearer understanding of what has contributed to Kenya’s success. They argue that hardware financing – financial investments in the demand and supply sides of solar technologies – and private sector entrepreneurship focusing on investing venture capital in entrepreneurs to drive and grow the market at the micro economic level, are not the only contributors to the Kenyan success as many have long believed. Rather the success was as a result of policy interventions that understood the need for a systemic approach in nurturing innovation and technological change through policy. This systemic approach leads to interventions in a wide range of areas that is generally regarded as creating an enabling environment.

The question is how can policy interventions help create the enabling environment that is required for the kind of success that Kenya has achieved? The authors argue that the overall goal of policy must be to build functioning socio-technical innovation systems that add to other efforts for the transfer, development and diffusion of sustainable energy technologies that meet the needs of all groups of consumers. Goals of policies and interventions must intentionally (1) build networks of diverse stakeholders; (2) foster and share learning; (3) promote the development of shared visions; and (4) support diverse experimentation. Two examples of how these can be achieved are the creation of sustainable energy access relevant innovation-system builders (SEA-RIBS) and using projects and programmes to build socio-technical innovation systems. The system builders are the institutions, including national and international companies, agencies, donors, networks, groups and financial institutions, that work to provide and improve relevant energy access support which may be needed in the implementation of relevant energy access projects and programmes.

In Nigeria, the mandate to lead energy access interventions – projects and programmes especially for rural areas – falls on the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) which is leading government’s effort to electrify rural communities in Nigeria. Unfortunately, in the recent past, REA has failed to provide the leadership that is required of it. Its projects and programmes funded through the Rural Electrification Fund (REF) have failed to build networks of diverse stakeholders, foster and share learning, promote the development of shared visions and support diverse experimentation. Projects have been treated more like a transactional activity than an experimentation and development activity to support learning that will help build systems. Recently, some stakeholders in the renewable energy sector especially project developers, have expressed their displeasure over the contract awarding process in the agency. For instance, the bill of quantities for some of the projects advertised by the agency does not meet industry standards and therefore cannot be executed, even if the projects can work with little or no challenges. The fear is that if solar projects are implemented based on a bill of quantities that are not standardized, not only will the projects fail to deliver on expectations, they will most likely breakdown within a short timeframe, which will start a bad story for solar technology. Project developers in Nigeria are already doing their best to change the bad image given to solar technology over the years due to badly implemented government solar projects. To invest 2 billion Naira of the Rural Electrification Fund on projects which are likely to breakdown in a short time impedes and reverses the efforts of the renewable energy sector to use solar energy to improve energy access in Nigeria. The agency must look at itself as the leading sustainable energy access innovation-system builder who must consciously look at its mandate as not just electrifying rural communities but also building a socio-technical innovation systems. This should be done by applying a broad systemic approach to the way it interacts with other stakeholders, designs and implements policies and interventions.

It is interesting to note that recently, the Federal Government inaugurated a new board for the Rural Electrification Agency whose Executive Director (Rural Electrification) is Dr Sanusi Ohiare, who holds a PhD in Rural Electrification. As my friend and colleague, I have reminded Dr Ohiare of the enormous responsibility that he has on his shoulders to ensure with the rest of the board that the right things are done at the agency to help build a sector that is resourceful in effectively meeting its mandate. One that is efficient in assisting to create an enabling environment for energy access and building a renewable energy sector and market that is successful. It is my earnest hope that the new board understands that its projects, programmes, policies, interventions and activities can make or mar the actualization of universal sustainable energy goals in Nigeria and beyond.

 

Okafor Akachukwu is the Energy and Environment Editor, The Initiative for Policy Research and Analysis (InPRA) and a Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex trained Energy Policy, Innovation and Sustainability Expert. Email: akachukwu_okafor@yahoo.com

Promoting a sustainable energy policy environment in Nigeria

By Akachukwu Okafor 28/04/17

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Sometimes I wish that Nigeria’s power sector challenges are solved so that I will have less to write on, but this seems not to be happening as issues keep arising in this large and troubled electricity market with its various actors and stakeholders.

After my last publication on the feasibility of the power sector recovery plan, I received several messages from key sector players including from a diplomatic mission commending the article’s insightfulness and asking that I share a copy of the recovery plan if I had it. At the time the last article was published, I did not have the plan and my preliminary analysis was based on the media briefing by the Minister of Power after the approval of the plan. However, I have obtained the plan now and I hope to further analyse the plan based on the specific programmes it hopes to embark on. The feedback I found most interesting was from a former Chairman on the Technical Committee of National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) who was not happy that I did not emphasise how DISCOS, in truth, collect a lot of revenue, but turn around to claim to other market players that they collect little and are operating at a loss. He described DISCOS as the problem of Nigeria’s electricity sector for not remitting revenue and refusing to invest in upgrading their infrastructure.

I promised to be more critical of all players in the sector especially DISCOS as I have always been (and as allowed by word count – it will take not less than a 5,000 word article to analyze how DISCOS are a big problem for Nigeria’s electricity sector). I still do not understand how the government strongly believes that DISCOS operate two accounting books and yet, have not taken appropriate and necessary actions to ensure that they are more transparent and accountable. This lack of transparency and accountability helps in the low revenue base of the power sector which starves it of the finance it critically needs for reforms and recovery programmes. Interestingly, these and other issues including enforcing corporate governance from power sector operators, enforcing market discipline, developing a coherent strategy to resolve militancy and making a definite policy statement on tariff are among sector issues that the World Bank listed as conditions for the release of $1 billion needed to help fund power sector programmes.

Speaking of definite policy statements, according to a World Bank global scorecard for policy makers which compares the national policies and regulatory frameworks for sustainable energy amongst different countries, Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy (RISE), February 2017, Nigeria ranked amongst the worst countries with regard to enabling policy environment for energy access, energy efficiency and renewable energy. Of 111 developing and developed countries studied which represents 96 percent of the world’s population and energy consumption, Nigeria scored very low for the three categories. For energy access, Nigeria ranked 10th worst country ahead of Liberia, Yemen, Mauritania, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Chad, Haiti, Central African Republic and Somalia in that order. Countries that performed better than Nigeria include – Afghanistan, Congo Republic, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Niger, Togo, Sudan, Honduras, Mozambique. For energy efficiency, Nigeria was ranked 8th worst ahead of Somalia, Mozambique, Chad, Loa People Democratic Republic, Mali, Mauritania, Congo Republic while Niger, Central African Republic, Liberia, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Yemen, Burundi, Myanmar, Maldives, Haiti, Zimbabwe, South Sudan were among 12 countries that performed better than Nigeria. On the renewable energy category, Nigeria was ranked 21st ahead of Somalia, Haiti, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, South Sudan, Niger, Mauritania, Bahrain, Liberia, Congo Rep while Uzbekistan, Mozambique, Benin, Burkina Faso, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Cambodia, Congo Democratic Republic, Qatar were listed countries that performed better than Nigeria.

Although Nigeria’s renewable energy score improved by over ten places when compared to energy access and energy efficiency it was still 4 points below the indicator score mark for low performing countries. Nigeria’s performance on this scorecard will not come as a surprise to people with a good understanding of the energy sector in Nigeria. Space will not allow me analyse the report in detail. For instance, on the energy access category, Nigeria’s overall score for energy access was 22 and 0, 0, 17, 35, 22, 100, 0, and 0 for existence of plan, scope of plan, grid electrification, minigrids, stand-alone systems, affordability, utility transparency and monitoring, and utility credit worthiness indicators respectively. The most interesting aspect of these indicators is that consumer affordability of electricity scored 100 which is an indication that electricity consumers can afford to pay the cost of electricity.

This situation seems to be well understood by government and key electricity market players which may be what the Nigerian government is exploiting in its continued push for a cost reflective tariff for the market. However, consumer affordability of electricity is clearly different from willingness to pay for electricity which is one of the challenges that the grid sector is facing. The problem of willingness to pay borders on social issues of distrust with public utilities and citizens’ perception of government’s role in providing utilities which is mostly informed by politicians’ election campaign promises. The scores of the other indicators means that government has a lot to do in making the right policies and setting the right regulatory frameworks for an enabling environment that accelerates sustainable energy access.

On energy efficiency, Nigeria’s overall score was 11 out of 100, and this equally doesn’t come as a surprise especially when policy makers are not knowledgeable about their responsibilities to the sector. For instance, the Senate Committee Chairman on Power, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe while responding to a question on how energy efficiency in Nigeria can be increased said that it is the job of energy efficiency appliance vendors to educate Nigerians on energy efficiency as it is not the job of government to lead energy efficiency programs, or in extension make enabling policies.

Unfortunately, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) which should be helping policy makers better understand the sector which they are to make policies for and also supervise are not doing enough. A check on the capacity building programmes designed for legislators will reveal that most of the capacity building programmes are not specifically designed for policy makers in Nigeria’s difficult regulatory environment. Most capability building programmes are via sponsorship to international conferences that will add little or no knowledge for making the right country-specific power sector policies. The legislative committees, relevant government ministries and departments and agencies on power also lack experts who should help in crafting the right policies asides other capacity, institutional and bureaucratic challenges that trouble the sector.

Renewable energy is performing better than other categories; however, there are a few practices by some project implementing stakeholders especially government energy agencies and projects that are not only unhealthy for the immediate growth of the sector, but which will in the medium term, help destroy the progress being made by other stakeholders. These practices include poor design of projects, wrong costing of projects and lack of transparency in procurement and contract processes which lead the implementation of projects that fail within a short time. This gives a bad name to renewable energy technologies and products. To help promote sustainable energy in Nigeria, government must do what is necessary, not just in formulating enabling policies and regulations for growth but to ensure that these policies are implemented and enforced appropriately in line with best practices. While government and other stakeholders are working towards creating a more enabling sustainable energy policy environment, consumers must realize that they hold the power to wheel the ship of policy in the direction they desire, which can only happen when consumers effectively engage with the policy and regulatory making processes.

 

Okafor Akachukwu is the Energy and Environment Editor, The Initiative for Policy Research and Analysis (InPRA) and a Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex trained Energy Policy, Innovation and Sustainability Expert. Email: akachukwu_okafor@yahoo.com