Mount Coffee Hydro Plant — Sitting across from a visitor Thursday, Emmanuel Lawrence, Deputy Project Manager for the Mt. Coffee Project Implementation Unity doesn't hesitate when asked whether renovation work on the most anticipated project in post-Liberia is nearing completion. "I'm pretty sure we'll be ready by Christmas", Lawrence says.
For many Liberians, especially businesses spending millions annually on fuel and generator costs, that could bring relief and perhaps the best Christmas present ever and President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is hopeful that Liberians have seen the worst days of humming generators. "We are now on our way to the provision of affordable electricity. The hydro will definitely bring down the cost many Liberians are now experiencing. So this is a very good development for Liberia," the President told FrontPageAfrica Thursday.
'Big Light' - Ten Years Late
It is ten years after since Sirleaf, celebrating her first Independence Day when Liberia turned 159, as President in 2006; made the declaration that has become a swansong amongst her critics, while switching on a symbolic new street light: "Small Light Today, Big Light Tomorrow."
Turning on the ceremonial light, Sirleaf acknowledged that she may have bitten off more than she could chew. "When I made this commitment during the campaign period, I was an outsider looking in." Sirleaf went on to say: "We have not met our entire goals. We had hoped to have electricity to more parts of our city by today. But we have kept part of the promise, as we turn on these lights."
For much of Sirleaf's first term, the government relied on small emergency power plants which supplied hospitals and some streetlights at a cost of more than $US6 million, with most of the money coming from the United States and the European Union.
The "small light today" made the rounds with power grids reaching slum communities in the suburbs of Monrovia. But for her critics, time was running out on her pledge and promises running empty. Sirleaf had pledged on the campaign trail to electrify Monrovia within six months when elected and her "Small Light Today, Big Light Tomorrow" mantra won over a lot of supporters.
But despite the small light enjoyed by a few, only 0.58 per cent of Monrovia residents had access to public electricity, according to a 2011 World Bank report. The situation is much worse outside the city where power is practically unheard of. Those who do have access to the Liberian capital's electrical grid pay $0.43 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), likely the highest rate in sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of businesses and some private homes run on diesel generators that carry a price of $3.96/kWh.
Realizing the importance of electricity to the post-war nation's economic revival, the administration went all out in search of funding in a bid to ease the worries of its citizens and business-owners with the revival of the Mount Coffee Hydropower Rehabilitation Project becoming a centerpiece of those plans. The rehabilitation was proposed as an important part of the national reconstruction efforts led by Sirleaf in 2011.
Fully Committed, Government Says
Liberia's energy sector was devastated by 14 years of civil conflict that only ended in 2003. Warlords deliberately targeted electrical infrastructure with the hydro taking the biggest hit. The 2009 Liberia National Energy Policy states that by 2015, the government expects 30 per cent of the country's urban population and 15 percent of those living in rural areas to have "reliable modern energy services". Sirleaf reaffirmed during her annual message in 2012 that her administration was committed to restoring electricity to Liberia.
According to statistics, about seven percent of Liberians have access to electricity today, and the price of electricity is among the highest in the world due to reliance on high-speed modular diesel generation. This situation impedes economic development, and therefore the Government of Liberia has fully committed itself to the Mt. Coffee Rehabilitation Project, which has been identified as the best option for low-cost and sustainable energy generation in the near and medium terms. The GOL requested and received financing for the project from the Government of Norway (GON), KFW Development Bank of Germany, and the European Investment Bank (EIB) in 2013. In 2015 the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) also joined the financing team, and the Liberian Government has contributed its own budgetary resources to the project as well. The joint financing will cover rehabilitation of the hydropower plant and reservoir, the construction of a 66 kilovolt (kV) substation at Mount Coffee, two 66 kV transmission lines between Mount Coffee and Monrovia, and the expansion of the two receiving substations (at Bushrod and Paynesville) in Monrovia.
The responsibility for the implementation of the Project was assigned to the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) by the Government of Liberia and is being implemented by a Project Implementation Unit (PIU) within LEC, acting on behalf of the Board of Directors of LEC. The project is being carried out on a fast-track basis. Contracts for the rehabilitation of the hydropower plant have been awarded to (a) Voith Hydro GmbH of Germany for generating equipment under Contract 1 - The Generators, Turbans, Transformers and Bus Bar; (b) Dawnus International of the UK for the main civil works under Contract 2A - The Civil Works which includes the construction of the Dams; (c) Andritz Hydro of Austria for hydraulic steelworks and auxiliary equipment under Contract 2B - The hydraulic Steelworks which includes the Gates; (d) National Contracting Co. Ltd of Saudi Arabia for substations under Contract 4A - Substation works at Mt. Coffee, Bushrod and Paynesville; (e) Eltel Networks of Sweden for transmission lines under Contract 4B - the transmission lines with double circuits from Mt. Coffee to Bushrod and to Paynesville; and (f) PSM-JV of Liberia for camp construction and services under Contract 5 - camps service operations. (g) The operation, maintenance and training contract for the selection of Liberians who will be hired and trained to operate and maintain the hydro.
The day-to-day management of these contracts as well as oversight of the construction works is assigned to the project's Owner's Engineer, a Joint Venture of Norplan (now Multiconsult) of Norway and Fichtner of Germany.
Ebola Slowed Down Delivery
Originally, the project had a target date of mid-December 2015 for production of first power (the first unit) from the plant. However, the tragic occurrence of the Ebola crisis led the project to miss an entire dry season which has resulted in a delay of one year for the first power milestone, which is now scheduled for December 2016. In the interim, stakeholders and international partners have stepped with several projects that will keep Monrovia lighted until the hydro is completed in December.
The government has embarked on 3 projects to provide additional power generation to the public. These include the construction of three heavy fuel operating plants (HFO). The three HFO plants, according to will be dedicated to the public before August, 2016. The 1st is the World Bank 10mw plant that was completed in January and is ready for commissioning. This 10mw will alleviate the strains on the current system thereby enabling LEC to generate more power. This will provide more stable and reliable electricity to Monrovia and its environs. Subsequently following the completion of the World Bank 10 mw project, the GOL funded 18mw will be in operation by March 2016. This will be followed by the JICA (Japanese) plant that's schedule to come on line by July, 2016. With the completion of all the HFOs listed above, a total of 38mw of power will be added to the existing grid.
At present, LEC produces between 10mw to 22mw of power on a monthly basis. In terms of power generation, LEC will have in totality between 136mw to 140mw of power at its peak by July 2017 therefore, boosting the capacity by a minimum of 126mw. On Thursday, Lawrence said the project appears to be on scheduled for the deliverance of the first unit by December 2016. "All major equipment including the turbines, generators, transformers are all in country with other porting in route to Liberia."
'We're Almost There', LEC Says
The PIU manager says a key concern is whether other related work currently being carried out under other LEC operation, will be ready to accommodate the Mt. Coffee Supply?
Curtis J. Lavallee, Senior Generation Manager, taking a visitor on a tour of the World Bank-funded LEC facility Thursday said, the corporation is on course. "It's been a long time coming but we're almost there." Lavalee says the World Bank 10mw plant is almost ready to go online in only a matter of a couple of days. This he says will enable LEC to generate more power.
For the Sirleaf legacy, a long overdue pledge appears to be nearing completion; barring any unforeseen circumstances, the long-wait for the big light appears to finally be coming to an end, a feat Sirleaf's supporters will no doubt trumpet as a last laugh hurrah at the end of her second and final term.
COMPLEMENTING THE HYDRO
Three projects will provide additional power generation to the public while the Hydro nears completion: They include the construction of three heavy fuel operating plants (HFO). The three HFO plants will be dedicated to the public before August, 2016.
WORLD BANK PLANT
The World Bank 10mw plant that was completed in January and is ready for commissioning and is expected to go online on Monday, January 25th. The 10mw will alleviate the strains on the current system thereby enabling LEC to generate more power. This will provide more stable and reliable electricity to Monrovia and its environs.
THE JAPANESE PLANT
The JICA (Japanese) plant is schedule to come on line by July, 2016. With the completion of all the HFOs listed above, a total of 38mw of power will be added to the existing grid.
The Liberian government- funded 18mw will be in operation by March 2016. At present, LEC produces between 10mw to 22mw of power on a monthly basis. In terms of power generation, LEC will have in totality between 136mw to 140mw of power at its peak by July 2017 therefore, boosting the capacity by a minimum of 126mw.