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‘We want to use adequate power supply to drive down cost of production in P/H zone’
Kingsley Achife, chief operating officer (COO) for Port Harcourt Distribution Company (PHED), has revealed to IGNATIUS CHUKWU why PHED is aggressively pursuing power supply adequacy through network expansion and energy efficiency scheme in Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers, saying it is the only way to drive down cost of production in the Niger Delta states where it covers. Excerpts:
Could you please tell us what PHED is doing about network expansion?
Network expansion is one of the obligations handed down to us by the regulator to serve our customers better. We have identified 41 circuits we are to work on. We have done quite a number of it and we have started from the Trans-Amadi area. We have done a number of networks, and one is from Trans-Amadi that feeds into the Stadium Road to serve all those hotels there. If we can make PH industries competitive, we would be creating jobs and make the city more liveable by helping people to work. Since we do not have enough power supply, we make sure that those people who create jobs are served to make their products cheaper and competitive. We have done that in Trans-Amadi, Oyigbo Industrial area from a feeder from our Elelenwo transmission station.
We have one we did at the airport road that takes care of the airport and the industries and schools around there including granite industries on the new express road in the Greater Port Harcourt city. It is going to support ventures such as Brookstone, Salvation Ministries, etc that require this kind of service. When people leave their homes, they seek to have power to work. A man running diesel produces one kilowatt at about N80, but ours is less than N40, that is about half. If you check what is produced with our power, you see the difference in running diesel most of the time.
In Uyo, we recently commissioned the 4-lane which is a 2x15MVA plus another four 11KV lines that serve the Osahama estate, Eweta Housing area and Brook areas and Shelter Afrique. We have one new line to serve the permanent site of Uniuyo and the Le Meridian Hotel, some bakeries, some commercial ventures that we want to hook onto that line. We have a new line we call Feeder 3 that goes straight to Breweries and commercial entities around there, plus banks and printing businesses.
We are doing this kind of thing in Calabar but we suffered some setbacks when we lost a 15MVA which we have replaced. We also have some two other big transformers we are trying to replace. The challenge is the amount of vandalism going on. People just go and cut the cables beside the transformers. Recently, we have a number of suspects in police station and we press for prosecution to serve as deterrence and pass the message that it is not business as usual. We want to deter robberies that occur when places are dark.
How do you decide that a place is an industrial area deserving top class service?
We have offices throughout the areas and we have marketers on the street every day. We have engagements with the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN). We are also a corporate member of the MAN; we have meetings with hoteliers association, the bakers associations, etc. We are trying to understand their peculiar needs and design ways of serving them better. This is what informs our building new lines.
One of the greatest problems we have had has been the issue of Right of Way, the Utility Corridor. I have worked round the country but whereas it is so easy to get corridors to put services in all other parts of Nigeria, it is tough in the South-South. I am sure that even business journalists have found that people do not care about dangers along high tension lines such as 132 KVA lines. We have photos of virgin places before we run our lines but houses and businesses spring up the next day. It becomes difficult when we want to expand the lines.
Some people believe that it is generator importers that sponsor vandalism to promote their business; how true can this be?
I have no evidence to that. The power supply we have is so small compared with the demand. It is this huge gap that makes people to look for how to bridge. See how fall in education standard has made people to move to private schools and there is an explosion now. Importers are just smart people trying to fill a gap that exists.
People are exporting the rare copper there. Those caught have buyers who melt the wires and export it. If there is a way the law enforcement agencies can make exporters to show the source of the copper, it would help. If we want to sell scrap, we would have checked it. Buyers should show documents of how they obtained the copper. This would reduce the rate of vandalism and theft of copper wires.
How far with the Energy Efficiency scheme of PHED?
It is one of the things we are proud of. It would help this country. First, we drew a programme on energy efficiency and launched the ‘Catch Them Young’. We have partnered with the state government to partner with the schools. If children become energy-saving conscious, they could point things out to their parents.
We are also partnering with Phillips of Holland through their Nigerian office to bring in lamp co-branded with PHED to show European quality. We also want to move into other products such as thermostat, air conditioners, fans, etc. We are starting with lamps and we are targeting schools and later communities. We realise that a lot of the communities use 200 watts bulb and leave them run every day and night. When it’s time to pay, they will say they have no money. We have nine watts bulbs that could consume less. We can give them these bulbs and save energy to serve others.
We have just tidied up the commercials. They have made an offer and we have accepted it. It has many commercial ends that we have just tied. Before the end of 2017, we would have started.
How do you make your workers happy to reduce grumbling over lack of promotion, bonuses, and sense of neglect?
Transiting from public to private sector entities, is not easy. The difference is too much both in expectation. The private sector entity seeks to survival and profit but the public sector survives on budget. For the private sector, you must show profit plans or assurance of future profit. That is where the financiers can hold on. Workers in the public sector expect much after a short period of time but in the private sector, you must bring in something to earn something. We have been trying to share this ideology and the plan of the company. There is a reward and sanction system. If you are able to make this, you get this, and vice versa. If we just thread water (that is where we seem to be now), some people may not be happy. Anybody who is passionate and cues in, that would be better.
You must agree that there is huge staff corruption, though also in the larger society, but we have issues. We have sent out lines and S4Report to report those who short-change us. There are inefficiencies and we invite people to help us. If we can save money we can easily provide what is needed instead of going to banks that we already owe and demand for more. These are some of the transition problems we face. We are getting there. Our communication strategies are being heightened.
You are regarded here as the highest black man in PHED; are you not under intense pressure whereas the expatriate CEO is less free?
It is a pleasure to serve people. I was once in the private sector, then in the public sector, and now the private sector again. I ask the workers to imagine being the only patron in a bar. Such an operator has no business if one person is their patron. If you serve where there is no pressure and no need to fulfil things you have no job. We have an inelastic business and we must fill the gap between supply and demand.
Another issue is dept of financing. Our financial market is not deep enough. That little is being pumped to some borrowers while others do not get. If you see what is being reported in the media about huge loans to some sectors, you wonder what others did wrong. A peep into what some sectors get, you marvel. Such loans are not available to the energy sector. The business books support the telecomm industry because it’s prepaid while in the power sector, it is pay after service. Some deny power they enjoyed and resist paying bills. The issue is credit system of up to 60 days and after a while the customers would forget what they had enjoyed.
Yes, there is pressure but there is pressure everywhere. We should be happy to have it so we can find better ways to serve our people. In this case, we urge the public to help remind us where we are not serving them enough. It’s time for transparency and accountability.
How is PHED preparing for licence renewal in few years now?
As you know, we do periodic reporting as part of the licensing requirement to do some compliance on financial, technical, operational, safety, etc. This report is given every quarter or month depending on requirement. We are also making the required investment. What has been difficult is to show that this service is not free. We operate in a zone where people feel entitled to free power even if they pay for fuel from the same crude oil they claim.
If we have more converts, we can make this industry more viable and make products from Nigeria more competitiveness. The banks would then have more confidence in the power industry for lending. We have to convince the banks to do what is required in the electricity industry.
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