Saturday, 9th December 2023

Varsities groan under huge electricity bills

By Iyabo Lawal (Lagos); Lawrence Njoku (Enugu); Anietie Akpan (Calabar); Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri); Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi (Jos), Gordi Udeajah (Umuahia), Ayodele Afolabi (Ado Ekiti), Odun Edward (Ilorin), Murtala Adewale (Kano) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan).
07 October 2021   |   4:20 am
The nation’s tertiary institutions are reeling under heavy yoke of high electricity bills. In fact, some schools, mostly government-owned, are either disconnected or have been disconnected at one point or the other...

Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu PHOTO:Twitter

Educational institutions across the country are groaning under huge electricity bills as a result of high tariffs. They are calling on government to find a way out to save them from the burden of expending resources that should have gone into other developmental projects on electricity, write

• UNN spends average of N75 to N80 million monthly on electricity
• Poor power, noise pollution from generating sets hamper learning in Cross River
• MOU does not depend on national grid for power supply, expends N30m monthly on electricity
• FUOYE considering renewable energy
• Bayero varsity spends N30m monthly

The nation’s tertiary institutions are reeling under heavy yoke of high electricity bills. In fact, some schools, mostly government-owned, are either disconnected or have been disconnected at one point or the other from the national grid by the Distribution Companies (DISCOs) in their localities.

With inadequate subventions from government and poorly managed internally generated revenue, educational institutions are finding it difficult to pay electricity bills and the development is adversely affecting the smooth running of the schools.

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) had increased electricity tariff from N30.23 per kilowatt per hour (kwh) to N62.33 per kwh for customers in band A, B and C, who enjoy at least 12 hours and above of electricity supply daily.

Last December, Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, had raised the alarm that universities may not be able to pay their electricity bills with the new tariff.

And two months ago, the Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) threw UNILAG into darkness over unpaid debt of about N200 million it billed the institution for electricity consumption.

The university authorities said the school had not failed to settle its electricity bill on a monthly basis, claiming that it paid a total of N1.123b electricity tariff to EKEDC in the last 17 months from January last year.

Its spokesperson, Mrs. Nonye Oguama, lamented that the electricity bill being served monthly on the university keeps rising.

She said UNILAG is finding it difficult meeting up with exorbitant monthly bill because of other financial obligations as a social service and not commercial purpose institution. She said EKEDC ought to have factored in this position in billing the university.

The vice chancellor confirmed that the university from January 2020 to June 2021 had paid N1.123b in electricity bills. He said the whopping sum was paid from its monthly internally generated revenues, which is a drain on its purse.

Giving a breakdown of electricity bill paid by the university in the last 17 months, Ogundipe said: “N51 million was paid in January 2020; N50 million in February: N58 million in March and N62 million in April,” of same year.

The amount, he said, dropped to N26 million in May 2020 during the general COVID-19 lockdown and further dropped to N21 million in June, but went up to N24 million in July; N25 million in August and N26 million in September.

“So, in October, when activities started picking up, we had N56 million, which dropped again in November to N29 million before it skyrocketed to N81 million in December when electricity tariff was increased generally in the country by power distribution companies.

“Since then, EKEDC has been bringing huge bill every month; N84 million in January; N79 million in February, which rose to N85 million in March when our students started coming back to hostels; N88 million in April and jumped up to as high as N181 million in May and came down again to N118 million in June,” he said.

“So, in the period covering 17 months, we paid a sum of N1.123 billion on electricity and the amount is just too high for the university to cope with,” Ogundipe lamented.

He said even companies making profit would not find it easy paying such a huge amount of money for electricity every month.

Worried by the huge bills and its effects on the institution, the school is researching into a cost-effective solar energy supply.

The university’s Director of Research and Innovation, Prof. Wellington Oyibo, said provision of alternative source of energy would be a unique way for the institution to make more impact in the society.

“We have colleagues in the energy space. We told them that we want people to have access to energy that must be cost-effective. If you compute how much it takes to run a generating set every day, you will discover that what you have spent in buying fuel in a week can actually provide you electricity for one year.

According to the director, the team of researchers is not only concerned about alternative source of energy, but also low-cost energy.

ELECTRICITY supply to tertiary institutions in Cross River State has been very epileptic and most of these schools depend on generators to survive.

Individuals doing businesses in these institutions also depend on their personal generators and that is why, if one steps into some departments or areas in the University of Calabar (UNICAL) and University of Cross River State (UNICROSS), the noise from generators can temporarily seal your eardrum.

The University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) is equally suffering the same fate of poor electricity supply.

In 2018, the then vice chancellor, Prof. Zana Akpagu, had said that due to poor public power supply, the university spent an average of N30 million monthly on diesel aside bills for electricity consumption.

Sources said the situation has remained the same since the incumbent vice chancellor, Prof. Florence Obi, assumed office.

As part of effort to tackle poor electricity supply and high bills from Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHED), UNICAL, had in 2018, entered into an agreement to spend $30m on solar energy to get uninterrupted power supply in the school and its environs through the Nigeria-German energy partnership programme.

At the ground breaking ceremony for commencement of the electricity project, the Consul General of Germany, Ingo Herbert, urged development partners to put in their best in the project execution, adding that $30m has been set aside by the Nigeria-German Solar Energy power partnership to be used for takeoff of 10 mega watts of the power project.

Coordinator of solar energy partnership, Jeremy Gains, said the project was to generate enough power for the university community, UCTH and UNICROSS.

Gains said $30m would be paid from some of the monies that the university is spending on diesel, which will serve as a form of investment on the project.

He said the solar power is designed to provide constant electricity in the campus for 24 hours, seven days of the week for 25 years, adding that the power project is not a Federal Government project, but one borne out of partnership

But since the groundbreaking ceremony three years ago, The Guardian gathered that the solar power project is yet to take off.

In UCTH, reliable sources say power supply to the hospital has been a big problem as the hospital management spends an average of N12m monthly on diesel to keep the generators running, but because of incessant strikes, the hospital could not raise money again from its internally generated revenue. So, the hospital operates mostly in darkness.

“The hospital relies 100 per cent on its internally generated revenue to run its activities, as there is no more subvention from the Federal Government and with frequent kidnapping and strike action, there is no way the hospital can raise money to run.”

The Chief Medical Director (CMD) of UCTH, Prof. Ikpeme Ikpeme, also confirmed the poor electricity supply and called for cooperation and oneness of purpose to achieve success.

THE University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), spends an average of N75 to N80 million monthly on electricity bill for three of its campuses in Nsukka, Enugu and Ituku- Ozalla.

This is even with the prepaid meters it installed in the faculties, departments and staff quarters, which ordinarily, should regulate the consumption capacity of the school.

Vice chancellor, Prof Arinzechukwu Igwe, while lamenting the burden on the institution by the high cost of electricity, insisted that except the school adopts prudent management of resources, it would be difficult to continue to meet with the challenge.

He stated that in the face of inadequate release of monthly allocation, the management had resorted to improving its internally generated revenue (IGR) from its business ventures to continue to pay the bills

Igwe told The Guardian that burdened by the need to continue to make electricity available to the institution for its research and other activities, the school was driven into the innovation of ‘waste to wealth’ gasification project, as alternative means of generating additional electricity in the university.

“We are currently building a 500KVA gasification plant, which is expected to mitigate energy challenges within the administrative block and its surroundings at the Nsukka campus of the university,” he said

The vice chancellor said the university’s 500KVA gasification project was inherited from his predecessor and being handled by a team of experts from the engineering department of the institution led by Prof Emenike Ejiogu, under the Laboratory of Industrial Electronics, Power Devices and New Energy Systems (LIEPNES).

Ejiogu, in an earlier interview, had told The Guardian that the UNN would convert to the homegrown energy system to save it from the huge financial burden it incurs from subscribing to national grid.

Executive Secretary, NUC, Abubakar Rasheed

He explained: “We improved on the research we did in 2019. What my research team did was to design and fabricate with 100 per cent local content, an engineering system that can convert organic solid wastes into what we call synthetic gas — synthetic in the sense that you are using available organic material to make gas.

“What we have done is to take these so-called wastes and turn them into usable energy form, which we call synthetic gas. Once that gas is available, you can use it for whatever you can use gas for; including generation of heat, electricity, or run it in a gas generator. You can equally modify a diesel engine to run the gas and produce electricity.

“We did that at the level of 100KVA two years ago after several years of research work. A couple of days ago, we announced a bigger system, that is five megawatts. The work has been the subject of my master’s thesis. For us, it is not new because we have been working on it for years. However, we have reached an extent where we can put it to practical use or commercialise it for broader use of the society, using UNN as starting point.

“We designed a gasification plant, which converts solid fuel into gas. It is the equivalent of the refinery, which turns crude oil into petrol and other products. As soon as there are enough resources to build enough gasification plants, UNN can comfortably run on it. We would change the already existing diesel generators on campus and modify them to run on gas. By so doing, we don’t have to impose an extra cost of providing gas.”

Speaking on cost of electricity in higher institutions, a lecturer in the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), Dr Ugochukwu Onah, said universities must provide alternative energy to run effectively.

He said: “I know that in my faculty, we have issues with regular supply of electricity but there is no way an institution can run without it. We have tried as much as possible to complement the power from public supply with solar system. This one has its limits as its efficiency depends on the volume of what is made available.”

Although he would not know how much the institution pays monthly, he said the university was making efforts to generate and sustain its own electricity.

TERTIARY institutions in Imo State are equally suffering under outrageous electricity bills charged monthly by Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC). The institutions include, Imo State University (IMSU), Owerri; Federal University of Technology, Owerri (FUTO) and Alvan Ikokwu Federal College of Education (AIFCE), Owerri, among others. Their stories are the same.

According to the Public Relations Officer of IMSU, Nze Njoku-Obi, officials of EEDC are always slugging it out with the school at every occasion. Though Njoku -Obi could not mention the actual average amount the institution is billed, he, however, said it runs into millions of naira.

The Guardian gathered that many of the workers, including academic and non-academic staff, in various faculties, departments and offices resort to generators at their personal cost to facilitate their work.

There seems to be no regulation on the use of power by students and others, as gadgets, lights and other electric appliances are used at will by consumers in the institution. IMSU is currently surviving through monthly subventions from the state government.

At FUTO, The Guardian gathered that the new vice chancellor, Prof. Nnenna Oti, who took over from Prof. Francis Eze, last June, is understudying the situation to streamline issues, including electricity bills.

AT Michael Okpara University of Agriculture (MOUA), Umudike, Abia State, the vice chancellor, Prof Maduebibisi Ofo Iwe, said they access power from public source through Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) and internally through diesel generators, both at high costs. He said while they expend over N15m on supply from EEDC, they also spend additional N13m monthly on diesel, adding that some months, they expend about N30m on electricity supply.

He said the university is making efforts to have a guaranteed power supply, including the promise made to it by the National Rural Electrification Commission to give the school solar power, which has not materialised.

“In 2019, the Federal Rural Electrification Agency promised to give us solar power, which ought to have been commissioned since November 2020. Meetings were held, agreements were signed, consultants were raised, land was provided to build a power station but it has not started. We are still pushing and expecting them to start because when this is put into action, we expect that in the next one year, our power problem would be solved,” Iwe stated.

THE Federal University, Oye Ekiti (FUOYE) and Federal Polytechnic, Ado Ekiti, have expressed frustrations over epileptic power supply and high tariff being charged by Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC).

The two institutions said they are considering ways of providing effective and cheaper energy sources for their campuses.

Rector, Federal Polytechnic Ado-Ekiti, Dr. Dayo Oladebeye, said it has not been easy paying the monthly bill slammed on the institution by BEDC.

Oladebeye explained that from the monthly bill of N3 to N4m naira that he met on ground in 2018, “the school now pays N8m monthly.

“This amount is for an average of six to seven hours electricity, the remaining hours are augmented with diesel on heavy duty generators. This in itself is an additional cost on the revenue of the institution,” Oladebeye lamented.

The rector explained that funds for electricity are supposed to come from overhead budget releases from government, which is an average of about N8m monthly. He said the money is meant for overall running of the school, but unfortunately, the whole N8m is spent on electricity bill.

“The pressure of meeting other needs to curb potential crises within the system is on the little IGR,” he said.

According to him, the institution is currently exploring other alternative sources of energy, which would supply 24 hours electricity at a cheaper rate. This would make for an effective management of resources of the polytechnic to enable it focus on other areas begging for attention.

Director, FUOYE Directorate of Maintenance, Mr Ojo Adebayo, said the university relies on generators at an average of eight to 10 hours per day, at a huge cost.

“In view of this, FUOYE management is seriously looking in the direction of renewable energy infrastructure for power supply.

UNIVERSITIES in Kwara state have decried huge electricity bills being incurred on monthly basis.

But they extolled the electricity company, Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) for keeping to the terms and conditions of supplying them with relatively high constant power flow.

In separate interviews with The Guardian in Ilorin, Director of Information Services, University of Ilorin, Mr Kunle Akogun, said the university had approached IBEDC authorities demanding for more electricity supplies to its campus.

Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe

“This development became feasible due to the construction of a step down at Ganmo, via Ilorin. The university community needed constant supply of electricity and it was placed on dedicated supply. Sometimes we enjoy 18 hours supply of electricity without a hitch. But the cost is enormous. In some months, we pay as much as N30m, Akogun stated.

DESPITE epileptic power supply, Bayero University, Kano (BUK) pays N30m monthly on electricity bill; this is apart from additional N20m the university management spends on diesel, The Guardian has learnt.

Although, the spokesman of the university was not available to speak, a reliable source in the institution told The Guardian that the school spends not less than N50m on power generation.

The source said: “The university spends at least N50m monthly on power generation. KEDCO alone takes the lion share of not less than N30 million and above, depending on availability. The bill covers both new and old campuses. And with the inauguration of Senate and CBN buildings alongside other newly completed structures, the bill is likely to increase anytime soon.

“Incidentally, the university is spending millions on electricity bill even as it enjoys 7.1 megawatt off-grid solar power plant. The Federal government in 2019 unveiled the solar hybrid alternative energy source under the Energising Education Programme (EEP).”

Wondering why the university is paying so much with the solar system in place, the source said the bill would not have cost less due to the structural design of the panels.

“The university would have spent money on other power source because the solar panel was not structured to power the entire university 100 per cent in 24 hours. Again, with the hybrid system, the university would also need energy from other sources to energise the battery, it could be powered from the national grid or generating plant.”

AS individuals are accusing electricity distribution companies of giving them high bills, educational institutions in Oyo State are also reeling under the yoke of such bills.

Public Relations Officer of The Polytechnic, Ibadan, Alhaji Soladoye Adewole, said power supply has been erratic.

Adewole said the school pays between N4.65m to N14.58m monthly, depending on availability of power supply and activities on campus.

“Enlightenment of staff and students on economical usage of electricity is a continuous exercise.

LED bulbs, which are low in energy consumption, have been adopted. Also, Task force on electricity is in place to monitor and advise on energy management.

“The usage of solar energy, which has already started in some sensitive units is being planned for expansion. This will assist in regular power supply,” Adewole said.

At the University of Ibadan, the narrative is the same. The institution’s Director of Public Communication, Tunji Oladejo, said: “We are trying to cope with the bills they are bringing but we are groaning.

“We have a relationship with Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) because of their billing system.  IBEDC came here to meet us for partnership and collaboration. We discussed on regular power supply and other related matters. It was agreed that they should take us out of commercial grid. We are one of their largest customers and we pay so much every month.

“All units and departments generate solar power on their own but not centrally generated. It is a renewable energy. We are working on our renewable energy.  We have many partners that will do that for us. There are many of them. They are discussing with us.”