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Concerns over performance in power sector as fourth ERERA forum opens

Nov 21, 2013, 9:24 AM | Article By: Abdoulie Nyockeh

The fourth ECOWAS Regional Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERERA) opened yesterday at the Kairaba Beach Hotel with concerns over performance in the power sector in ECOWAS member states, which according to experts has over the years been unsatisfactory.

Designed to promote cooperation and exchange of information among the regulatory bodies of ECOWAS member states, the two-day forum opened by the Vice President and Minister of Women’s Affairs, Isatou Njie-Saidy, will also serve as a platform for discussion aimed at regulators, operators, consumers and other stakeholders in the electricity sector in West Africa.

In a statement read on his behalf, the president of the ECOWAS Commission, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, said despite implementing power sector reforms aimed at stimulating private sector participation and liberalization, national power utilities in the region have not been able to attract a significant level of private investment.

‘‘In fact, the national power utilities have continued to be under-capitalised in addition to charging rates below cost, hence they have not been able to access financial markets or attract investors for maintenance and expansion projects,’’ the ECOWAS Commission President stated.

According to him, over 60% of the regions electricity capacity runs on petroleum fuels and, as such, any escalation in oil prices has a devastating effect on most of the economies in the region.

Noting that the national electricity markets are too small for any meaningful gain from economies of scale, Ouedraogo stated that against this background, the regions power utilities face enormous challenges in providing quality energy services to existing consumers and expanding coverage.

Therefore, he added, the desire of member states of ECOWAS to develop electricity interconnections through the joint implementation and sharing of primary energy resources of the region is being progressed to address the sector challenges.

In her keynote address, Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy said it goes without saying that there can be no meaningful and sustainable development without adequate, reliable and sustainable energy.

‘‘West Africa is blessed with some of the richest energy resources including oil, gas, large hydro and abundant sources of renewable energy. However, over the last four decades, we have been pursuing our individual national energy policies without exploring the benefits of economies of scale,’’ she stated.

The Vice President told delegates that availability and access to modern energy services is not only vital to reducing poverty in the region, but also towards maintaining peace and security.

The Gambian minister of Energy, Tenengba Jaiteh, said since its inception in 2008, ERERA has been working very hard in regulating cross-border electricity exchanges and also providing the necessary support to the national regulatory bodies of the electricity sub-sector of member states.

The ECOWAS region, she noted, is challenged with low access to electricity with large disparities between urban and rural areas, as well as disjointed electricity networks.

According to her, the theme for this year’s forum: ‘Fast-tracking the ECOWAS regional electricity market - Regulation Issues’ is very relevant, as it seeks to address the challenges hindering electricity trading among member states.