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Liberia studies feasibility of reviving sole hydropower plant

The Liberian government has contracted US-based engineering company Stanley Consultants to carry out studies on the feasibility of resuscitating the country’s only hydropower plant, which was damaged during the West African country’s bloody civil war.
“The US government, through the US Trading Authority, has given more than US$531 000 for the conduct of feasibility studies on our damaged hydro plant, and Stanley Consultants has been awarded the contract to do the studies and [establish] the extent of the damage and the cost of rehabilitating the dam,” Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) head Harry Yuan says.

Liberia, recovering from 14 years of civil war, has been without public power since the start of the war in the early 1990s, when its main hydropower plant was damaged and its vital components looted.

Over the last decade, looters have stolen most of Monrovia’s electricity cables for sale as scrap metal.

The St Paul hydroelectric plant, on the St Paul river, once supplied the capital, Monrovia, and much of the rest of Liberia with electricity.

Since 2006, Liberia’s postwar government has been providing ‘emergency power’ using generators obtained on loan from Ghana to supply power to a few street lights and select public buildings, like hospitals.

The emergency power programme (EPP) is being funded by Ghana through the Volta River Authority, the Libyan government and Liberia’s development partners, including the European Union and the US Agency for International Development.

“We are determined to restore our public power system and this is why we are implementing the EPP, in keeping with our vision, ‘Small Light For Now and Big Light For Tomorrow,’” Yuan says.

He adds, “The most sustained power supply is from hydro, and that is why this comprehensive study is being conducted [so that we] know what needs to be done.”

According to LEC, the EPP is providing only 4,6 MW of electricity and hopes to increase this by 7 MW by the end of next month so that almost all parts of Monrovia have electricity.

LEC’s prewar power system consisted of hydro and thermal generating facilities with a combined installed capacity of 182 MW. Hydro accounted for 64 MW and gas-fired turbines, slow-speed diesel-fired plants and medium-speed diesel-fired plants contributed 68 MW, 40 MW and 10 MW respectively.

“The average annual energy production of these plants stood at 435 GWh in 1989 (the year before the civil war broke out),” the corporation says.

Meanwhile, the European Com-mission (EC) has approved a €4,8-million contribution to a programme linking three of Liberia’s border regions to the West African Power Pool (WAPP).

Liberia joined the WAPP, a regional power supply group set up in 1999 by West African leaders to tackle the challenge of power supply deficiencies in the Economic Community of West African States region.

“Some 131 000 people, mainly in the rural communities of Maryland, Nimba and Grand Gedeh, will be connected to the electricity grid and supplied with power,” Caterina Artelli, spokesperson of the EC office in Liberia, says. The three heavily forested Liberian counties share common borders with neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire.

According to the EC, the non- availability of power is still a challenge for the postwar restoration of economic activity in Liberia.

“While efforts are being made to restore power services, mostly to the Liberian capital and its environs, Liberian rural communities are still suffering from a complete lack of power supply,” Artelli says.

She adds, “The WAPP organisation, in collaboration with the national utilities of Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, will complete preparatory activities for the cross-border electricity supply projects, as well as undertake the construction of the medium-voltage and low-voltage transmission lines, transformer substations and service connections.

“The supply of electrical energy from across the border, since this is from hydro and natural gas sources, promises to be more cost-effective than the diesel-based generation that is the only reasonable alternative for the beneficiary communities.”

Additional information:
News date: 07/03/2008

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