Umeh: FG Must Encourage Competition in Power Sector

Umeh: FG Must Encourage Competition in Power Sector

The Chief Executive Officer, Century Power Generation, Chukwueloka Umeh, in this interview with Jonathan Eze, advises the country against supporting nuclear plants. He also speaks on other issues in the power sector. Excerpts: Do you think the unbundling of the power sector was a mistake by the government as Nigerians are yet to reap the

The Chief Executive Officer, Century Power Generation, Chukwueloka Umeh, in this interview with Jonathan Eze, advises the country against supporting nuclear plants. He also speaks on other issues in the power sector. Excerpts:
Do you think the unbundling of the power sector was a mistake by the government as Nigerians are yet to reap the benefits?
The government did a very good job in unbundling the industry. However, these licensees will profit from the government deregulating the market even more. Think about it. You already own the assets. All you need to do is optimise your asset. Invest money to optimise your market to your assets. And with that investment, you will be able to make more money at the end of the day. Even though competition is coming, you’ll still be able to make money and I said to private companies today they’re currently issued. Currently, there’s no competition. We are all partners right now because we’re seeing that Nigeria needs 20 gigawatts. Nigeria doesn’t need to integrate.
You probably need about 60 gigawatts. I mean South Africa has a fraction of the population that Nigeria has, but South Africa currently produces about 50,000 megawatts of power and is still not enough. Nigeria has a population of 180 million at least and every month we produce less than 4,000 megawatts of power. So as far as I’m concerned there’s no competition. We’re not competitors. Where we should all be partners. There’s a lot to go around and year in year out we will be struggling to meet the demand. But the problem is that you don’t really seem to see the demand because every Nigerian that can afford it has a generator on their own.
So you don’t really know what the real demand in Nigeria is. When MTN came to Nigeria they thought that 500,000 lines were too much but now it is still struggling to meet the demand just like every other cellphone company. When private GENCOS and private Discos start working properly, they will struggle for many years to come to meet the demand and this is real. This is not speculating, this is real. A lot of us today generate our own power and pay a much higher tariff than what we can get from the grid system.
Banks are careful to support the industry due to risks. What do you think should be done to make banks invest in the sector?
So there used to be a lot more excitement in the industry from the banks and the private investors. There’s still a level of excitement because they know it’s a matter of time for us to get it right. Again we’ve been talking about the potential of Nigeria. We must move from potential to reality. Private citizens, private companies are starting to understand that this industry can actually work. So they are asking for the industry to work. Government is under increasing pressure to allow the industry work, so the banks know that this will happen. And so they’re gearing up to make sure it does happen. And when it happens that they have a piece of the pie, so they’re not rushing to give money to you, but they’re saying, ‘let’s see the government do what it needs to do and then we’ll give you money to make sure that we don’t lose money gambling.’ Nobody wants to lose money, so we’re waiting for the government to do some of the things it needs to do to make the industry work.

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