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INADEQUATE FUNDING GREATEST THREAT TO OUR OPERATIONS – EGBIN POWER BOSS

By NBF News
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Ogbonna
As Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Egbin Power Plc., Jonathan Ogbonna, is saddled with the full responsibility of the day-to-day running of Nigeria's biggest power generation station, and that indeed is an herculian task, considering the on-going crisis in the country's energy generation industry.

The Egbin Power station, with an installed generation capacity of 1,320megawatts derived when all the six units are in full operation, is Nigeria's premier gas-fired plant (others before it were hydro plants). The Egbin plant is located in Lagos, and was inaugurated in May 1985, although initial construction work started about mid-1980.

The thermal plant, initially managed as an integral part of the former National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was, however, granted an autonomous management and financial status as an independent power generation firm under the Federal Government unbundling programme, which saw NEPA transform into the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).

Ogbonna, an engineer who has spent more than two decades working for the PHCN, said the last 10 decade had witnessed a drastic drop in the productivity level of the thermal plant. Sometimes generation can drop to less than 500megawatts although, at present, generation stands at about 800 megawatts. And for a plant which accounts for about 40 per cent of Nigeria's power generation capacity, and with the bulk designed to feed industrial and individual homes in Lagos State, that figure is abysmal.

Ogbonna attributes the low capacity productivity of the plant to inadequate allocation of funds for statutory maintenance, repairs and upgrading of facilities to meet contemporary needs. 'Egbin plant has not been adequately maintained since its inception, and funding remains the biggest constraint to the maintenance of this power plant,' he said. 'By design, Egbin units are expected to be overhauled every five to six years, but this has never been adhered to,' he lamented.

Ogbonna said the poor maintenance culture of the plant posed the greatest threat to its operation and survival and cautioned that if the same practice was deployed in the management of the newly built power stations, the entire sums sunk into their construction would have amounted to a waste of resources.

The effort to improve power generation and supply in Nigeria can best be met through a culture of investments in the construction of new plants and the proper maintenance of all power utilities - new and existing.

Excerpts:
Plagued with maintenance sickness
By design, Egbin units are expected to be overhauled every five to six years, but this has never been adhered to. At the moment only three units - two, four and six - have been overhauled. First unit three was due for overhaul in 1990. By May 2010, unit three would have operated for 24 years without the statutory overhaul. It will also interest you to know that unit one which broke down on December 24, 2009 operated for 23 years without any form of overhaul.

Now the standard practice in any utility management like a power plant is to upgrade or replace boiler/turbine control equipment every 10 to 12 years due to obsolescence and advances in technology. But I can tell you that in this power plant, units one and three have never been upgraded since installation.

Units four and six are overdue for upgrades because the technology they have is more than 15 years old. Unit six could not be operated after rehabilitation of boilers water walls tubes because the generator and BFP motor rotors were used for the overhauls of unit two. Contract for repairs awarded to Marubeni is going on in Japan and are expected back by December 2010.The boilers reheat tubes having rusted after such long time must be replaced before unit can return to service. Contract already awarded to KEPCO.

Funding at the root of the crisis
Egbin plant has not been adequately maintained since its inception and funding remains the biggest constraint to the maintenance of this power plant. Like I said earlier, by design, we are expected to be overhauled every five to six years but this has not been followed. To overhaul one unit and re-tool its obsolete technology requires N5.6billion which translates into a total of N33.6billion for the six units; all the six units that we have here are due for a total overhaul.

Funding has been the biggest challenge to this power station operation and maintenance from the outset. And this is applicable to other power stations. Sometimes, I wonder why we put in so much money into the construction of these power plants and we can't make the necessary allocation of funds for their statutory maintenance.

For a power plant of this nature, international best practice recommends that 10 per cent of the cost of construction should be set aside for operation and maintenance of the power plant annually. But we have never done this. Now if proper allocation of funds were made for the maintenance of the power plants we have, we would not need to even out up more funds in the conduction of new ones. But a station like this has always been on impress funding, providing enough fund to cover staff cost and minor maintenance only. The first direct government fund appropriation we will receive was in 2009.

We have severe manpower challenges
We use to have a manpower technical training programme with CEGB of UK but this stopped in 1981 and even the local technical training at our in-house training school had been disrupted since the commencement of the unbundling of NEPA in 2005. And most of our well trained staff are either retired or are about to retire while others are pouched by other industries. So we have a huge challenge in manpower availability which needs to be addressed.

The implications of these problems
The implications of these lapses in not carrying out statutory maintenance are the obvious low plant reliability index, the frequent unit trips during operation leading to grid system instability, the reduction in available plant capacity over time, and the poor operational efficiency of the plant.

The station management and plant operation and maintenance team are faced with severe pressure and huge task of managing these plants and keeping them within reasonable availability. Our staffs are restive, morale low due to poor condition of service. But then, I must say that the staffs here have been doing an enormous and thankless job of keeping these machines operational without adequate resources.

Sometimes, when some of the foreign partners come here they just marvel at the ability of our engineers and technicians and feel we are magicians because the technology is so obsolete. But they remain committed.

Urgent government intervention required
We are in dire need of urgent government intervention. Like I said funding remains a constraint to maintaining the infrastructure in good operating condition. If Egbin is to play its significant role in the power sector of the Nigerian economy, adequate injection of funds must be made now. For me if we run the plant commercially and charges are made commercially for the power we sale to consumers and they pay appropriate price, we will be able to recoup and maintain facilities and even expand. We don't even get one quarter of the money we generate.

Our challenges can effectively be tackled if we are assisted by the government in bearing the cost of the Low Pour Fuel Oil (LPFO) that we utilise. Also, federal government budgetary allocation for capital investment should be increased to enable this station perform the overhaul of one unit annually. In the same vein, appropriation should be made on a lump sum of one budget code for generation stations like this one in Nigeria.

I feel that the generation sector can be concentrated on fewer stations so that benefit of appropriation will be realized. So with the required investment in funding made to upgrade, rehabilitate failed plant items and re-tool the boiler and turbine instruments, the plant will continue to be the premier power station in Nigeria due to the dedicated and committed workforce and management working together in a team spirit.