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Renewable energy for rural communities (The Guardian, 18.07.14)

Renewable energy for rural communities (The Guardian, 18.07.14)

NOTWITHSTANDING delayed expectations in regular supply of electricity to Nigerians following the completion of the power sector privatization last year, high hopes now attend the Federal Government’s planned adoption of renewable energy to fast-track rural electrification projects across the country. It is a welcome drive although it is coming rather late for the impoverished, neglected rural dwellers – given decades of failure in the energy sector. In fact, renewable energy ought to be a critical component of the power supply regime in any forward-looking economy.

Tapping into this global trend in energy provision deserves concrete action and should, therefore, be pursued with all sense of mission. The advantages of the energy source are many, including sustainability and environmental friendliness which mainly addresses some of the challenges of climate change in the country, providing alternatives to conventional means. The availability and efficient utilization are truly capable of turning round the fortunes of many rural dwellers while shoring up the embarrassing image of a country blessed with human and natural resources but one that is groping in perpetual darkness.

Power Minister Chinedu Nebo explained that the Pilot or first stage of implementation “utilizes 100 per centsolar energy to power hundreds of communities”. The second stage will incorporate wind energy as an integrated solution, while the final stage keys into bi-mass as energy source. This is ideal but action to actualise them matters most. 

 Actually, the will to implement the new strategy would involve a mix of wind, solar, bio-mass and hydro-energy to complement conventional energy sources. It is hardly contestable that the failure in the energy sector stemmed from the over-concentration on two main sources, gas and hydro power, to generate electricity, both of which have been poorly harnessed.   

The missteps are not completely devoid of the influence of corruption in official circles, which has the potential to also truncate the renewable energy drive if the project is not perfected from the design stage. Also, care must be taken to carry along the international agencies that are likely to be partners in a successful implementation. If such projects could succeed in other countries which did it in collaboration with some agencies, especially the UN Sustainable Energy for All (UN SE4ALL) Initiative, Nigeria has no business with failure on this project.  

Government’s embrace of the SE4ALL should not end with its formal launch by President Goodluck Jonathan two years ago on August 23, 2012. The momentum has to be sustained for any appreciable progress to be recorded. It is in that sense that official light must be thrown on what has become of a National Policy on Renewable Energy Efficiency that was being developed among others. 

The same goes for other initiatives including National Rural Electrification Strategy and Implementation Plan as well as the Operation Light-Up Rural Nigeria (inaugurated by the President in Durumi community, complemented by simultaneous launch in Shape and Wura communities in Bwari Council Area of Abuja) – all aimed at providing easy access to electricity for rural dwellers. The Federal Government must also live up to its word to launch similar projects in at least three communities in each of the 36 states under the first phase of the programme. A monitoring team tasked with constant assessment and updating President Jonathan with quarterly reports, for instance, is needed if the government is truly committed to the project. Activities of vandals and saboteurs would also have to be curtailed through the monitoring process. 

It is gratifying that Nigeria has played a key role in other developments through the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency. These are great ideas that must be nurtured to fruition and should not become high-sounding contraptions designed to be mere conduit pipe for official funds into private pockets.

 Government should profit from listening to, and partnering with local environmental groups like the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN) that have been campaigning for renewable sources of energy. If, as the minister said, “close to 70 per cent of Nigerians” who are the targets of the new push are rural residents, a lot is expected from those officials saddled with the task. As a key component in the development process, the rural communities deserve a better life from the government through well thought-out visionary plans solid enough to halt the rural-urban migration. 

 

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