Pathways from Stagnation in the West African Electricity Sector. Patrick Gilmartin Master of Law & Diplomacy, 2013

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1 Pathways from Stagnation in the West African Electricity Sector Patrick Gilmartin Master of Law & Diplomacy,

2 Introduction Countries with low per-capita electricity consumption are poorer than those with high percapita consumption, and by these metrics West Africa is one of the poorest performing regions of the world. Why? To better understand the situation, some key questions need to be answered. First, what structural characteristics in West Africa have inhibited the development of reliable systems to supply electricity? Furthermore, what approaches hold the most promise in terms of addressing fundamental problems? This research employed a variety of tools, including a literature review (comprising of both policy reports and academic studies), a factor analysis (examining socio-economic, technical, and political factors affecting the provision of electricity in West Africa), and a series of interviews with business executives and senior policymakers in the region. Generous funding from the Institute for Business in the Global Context at the Fletcher School for travel to Ghana, Benin, and Nigeria in the summer of Interviews were conducted with key decision makers, including Amadou Diallo (Secretary General of the West African Power Pool, or WAPP, in Benin), Kweku Awotwi (CEO of the Volta River Authority in Ghana), and Joe Ajah (System Operator at the Transmission Company of Nigeria), among others. State of Service in Region West Africa suffers, most broadly speaking, from a dearth of electricity. This manifests itself in various interconnected ways: low rates of grid access, low consumption levels, and frequent blackouts. The region s low access and consumption rates stand in stark comparison to both developed countries and peer developing countries, with access rates ranging from 4 to 40% and per-capita consumption rates round 155 kwh/year. For comparison, South Africa had a level of 4,759 kwh/year in The blackout situation is 2

3 similarly problematic: the majority of countries in the region experience over ten blackouts on a monthly basis. Nigeria has been experiencing 26 blackouts on average per month! 1 Between 30 and 80% of firms in different countries have identified electricity as a significant constraint to their business. 2 Structural Factors In order to understand the constraints faced by local policymakers working to improve the electricity situation and businesses trying to operate in the electricity sector, a discussion of structural factors underlying the provision of electricity services in West Africa is necessary. In particular, an analysis of the bulk power system should take into account socioeconomic, technical, and political factors. First, underlying socioeconomic factors in West Africa that can influence the success of power sector policies and business decisions include low levels of per capita incomes and significant regional disparities, both of which lead to a perception of low willingness/ability to pay for energy services. Discussions of power sector investment need to consider the broader economic context; in West Africa, that means poor populations and low levels of development. Second, the factors related to technical issues that affect the provision of electricity services in West Africa are largely related to generation technology choice, and include technical feasibility and affordability, path dependency and attitudes in local business and policy circles. There are historical and economic reasons for the state of the sector today, which is based largely on hydro, diesel/fuel oil, and natural gas. Regional disparities in gas and hydro availability are also key. Third, politics tends to interfere with many power sector decisions. Pathways for this include corruption and patronage networks, internal political instability, and international disputes and instability. West Africa has been severely hampered by a constant sense of political instability. The numbers are staggering: from 1963 to 2004, the region experienced over forty coups, over eighty coup plots, and seven forty-four successful military coups, forty-four unsuccessful coups, eighty-two coup plots, and seven full-fledged civil wars. 3 This is the political environment in which technocrats and businessmen are trying to operate. 3

4 Fundamental Problems Informed by the structural factors discussed briefly above, the research found that three fundamental problems are afflicting the bulk power sector in West Africa. These problems include (1) a vicious cycle related to a lack of cost-reflective tariffs, (2) a similarly difficult situation with incentivizing international transmission, and (3) a challenging fuel supply outlook for thermal plants in countries depending on Nigerian natural gas. Low Price, Low investment Vicious Cycle It s rubbish, and you can say that I said that! Kweku Awotwi, CEO of the Volta River Authority (VRA), Ghana, in response to question about Summer 2012 decision by the Ghanaian regulatory commission to not raise electricity rates due to poor service Perhaps the most intractable problem in West Africa has been a vicious cycle related to tariffs and investment. The basic pattern has replicated itself in country after country, although the phenomenon is by no means limited to the region. Most countries have parastatal vertically integrated electricity utilities ultimately responsible to the federal government. Various forms of socio-economic and political pressures have kept electricity prices very low for decades. The problem is that persistently low prices are often a warning that an infrastructure system has fallen into a low level, stable equilibrium that is characterized by low levels of investments, quality, service, and customer support and appreciation. 4 The cycle begins when electricity tariffs must be approved by regulatory bodies in each country; the commissions usually claim to balance technical and financial concerns with concerns about quality service for the public. As populations in all of these countries are quite poor on a per- capita basis, the political pressure is always to deny the higher rates that utilities say they need to cover their costs. Regulatory commissions often end up splitting the difference and approving (1) non-cost reflective tariffs, which leads quite directly to (2) financially weak vertically integrated utilities, or if the sector is unbundled, distribution companies. The financial weakness of these entities is reflected in their poor credit quality. Since these entities are the off-takers or purchasers of power from any existing or potential generation company this leads to a (3) lack of investment in generation capacity as well as in distribution networks. Over time, a lack of sustained investment in both new and existing assets leads to deterioration of the system. This is often reflected in (4) high system losses at the distribution level and unreliable supply which stems from a lack of available MW as well as transmission or distribution problems. Finally, an unreliable power supply is synonymous with (5) bad service for customers. These customers often seek back-up generation solutions as an 4

5 alternative. The cycle is completed because regulatory bodies are loath to approve higher electricity tariffs when the quality provided by current systems is so bad, as such a move will be politically unpalatable. International Transmission is Lacking Why [weren t] things working properly?...why is [development of transmission lines] not moving as fast as we had wanted? Why are costs escalating? Amadou Diallo, Secretary General of WAPP A second fundamental issue facing the West Africa electricity sector is the lack of significant cross-border infrastructure. There are significant cost and reliability advantages to regional system integration, which not being realized by countries in the region. The various electrical grids largely operate as non-interconnected electrical islands reflecting political borders. Studies have estimated that significant savings could result from more rationalized regional planning and electricity trading. One such study noted that with increased electricity trade, power pooling, and collective regional approaches to new generation and transmission projects a 30% reduction in total costs for the period 2000 to 2020 could be achieved in West Africa. 5 However, it is a chicken-or-egg situation: for cross-border power transfers, there needs to be excess power in certain countries to evacuate; for excess capacity to be built, Independent Power Producers want to be assured that power evacuation infrastructure (and this means non-risky transmission and a solid off-taker) will be in place upon commissioning of the new capacity (among other things). Opinions are somewhat split regarding the severity of this problem. Some executives interviewed insist that they are very unlikely to pursue projects building excess capacity (more capacity than a system in one country is able to financially absorb) of any kind. This viewpoint implicitly sees socioeconomic and political factors as the primary structural inhibitors of international cooperation. Benin and Togo are examples of small countries suffering from this type of investment bias. On the other hand, the CEO of the VRA is more optimistic, insisting that cross-border sales are a real possibility if technical obstacles are overcome. It is an increasingly widely held view in the industry that project finance is a method that could potentially jump-start the construction of new international assets. WAPP has taken this exact approach. Focusing specifically on cross-border investments, WAPP is trying to deal with both delays and cost increases in project development by removing as much as possible the state from the picture and creating Special Purpose Companies (SPCs). WAPP takes a balanced approach towards developing new projects, balancing economic and political concerns in deciding which grid extensions are priorities. Fuel Supply Problems You can t trust Nigerians! Wisdom Ahiataku-Togobo, Director of Renewable Energy at the Ministry of Energy, Ghana in response to question of imported fuel supplies for Ghanaian power plants The third fundamental problem facing the West African power sector concerns the fuel supply in several major economies: how can steady supplies for thermal plants, and gas plants in particular, be assured? This is important because a large percentage of recently built or planned generation plants in the region rely on natural gas supplies. Nigeria, which is the country in the region with the most immediately accessible gas reserves, is faced with many of the socioeconomic and political problems highlighted 5

6 above. The Nigerian gas sector was mismanaged for decades; the majority of gas produced in the country was simply flared due to a lack of transportation technology or viable local end-users. To divert unused gas to new customers in Ghana and elsewhere, the West African Gas Pipeline (WAGP) project was launched in 2003, but the failure of the pipeline to reliably supply adequate quantities of gas has caused tensions between energy officials in connected countries. Will things improve? On one hand, there are a number of positive recent developments in the Nigerian gas sector, such as an industry restructuring plan and a major effort on the part of government and private sector alike to cut back on flaring. On the other hand, various structural factors largely political - may continue to inhibit progress in Nigeria. Corruption, particularly in the gas sector, is endemic. Nigeria s low ranking in international corruption rankings was reinforced towards the end of 2012 when yet another scandal broke regarding corrupt payments in the natural gas industry. 6 Such continued corruption tests the ability of regional policymakers to trust in Nigerian gas supplies. Furthermore, the geopolitical implications of Nigeria s failure to reliably supply the WAGP should be considered. The problems associated thus far with the WAGP may set back international cooperation in both gas and power in multiple ways that are difficult to predict. Some officials in Ghana, for example, have already stopped viewing Nigerians in general as reliable partners, a perception that may have negative effects far beyond the success of the WAGP in the future. Conclusion In the short to medium term, these three fundamental problems will need to be resolved before significant progress can be realized at a regional level. Unfortunately, many countries have yet to begin to think strategically about facing these problems in their power sectors and taking steps to resolve them. They continue to set electricity prices below cost, they do not consider strategically partnering with neighboring countries, and they continue to suffer from problematic fuel supply situations without taking action. The highlighted challenges appear to be technocratic problems demanding technocratic responses. To this end, some countries have started to propose and implement various reforms. Such reforms are using tools employed elsewhere around the world to inject competition into power markets, to increase investment in previously neglected systems, and to encourage regional cooperation where it has previously been hard to achieve. Power sector problems present a multidisciplinary challenge, however. Underlying structural factors must be taken into account in order to have a realistic understanding of what may appear to be technocratic issues. In the case of many of the specific problems presented, the real challenge is not whether in a perfect world the proposed technocratic solution will be successful, but whether the political and socio-economic landscape of the country concerned will facilitate the sustained reform efforts required. 6

7 For this reason, despite the fact that several important steps are being taken throughout the region to fix problems that have plagued the electricity sectors of these countries, it is still too early to see whether they will be successful. Policymakers throughout the region considering major restructuring in their local power sector would do well to conduct a political stakeholder analysis to see if political relationships and patronage networks might be interested in either intended or unintended consequences of electricity market reforms. Furthermore, they should be realistic about the extent of corruption within local networks, and take it into account when designing reforms, rather than turning a blind eye to it. On a positive note, policymakers in reform-minded countries have moved beyond simply throwing money at the problem. They understand that it will take a combination of innovative solutions and time to make sustained change possible. Years of failures have yielded some important lessons; time will tell whether these lessons, and the policies they inform, will have the effect of finally putting the West African power sector on the path towards higher standards. Sources 1 Dalberg Global Development Advisors Solar Lighting for the Base of the Pyramid. Washington, DC: IFC/World Bank. 2 World Bank Africa Development Indicators. Washington, DC: World Bank Group. 3 Camara, M The Development of a Trans-national Region in West Africa: Transcending the Politics of Sovereign Nation States. Lewiston: Edwin Mellon Press. 4 Spiller, P., and W. Savedoff Commitment and Governance in Infrastructure. In Can privatization Deliver?: Infrastructure for Latin America. Baltimore, MD: IDN and Johns Hopkins Press, p Sparrow, F. T., W. Masters, and B. Bowen Electricity Trade and Capacity Expansion Options in West Africa: Year 2 Proposal. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue/AIRD 6 Rice, X Nigeria gas deals found to have cost $29bn. Financial Times, October 24, 2012, 2012, sec Africa. 7

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