Addressing Liberia’s perennial power crisis will require significant financial investment, with the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) estimating that between US$700 million to US$1 billion is needed for the construction of a reservoir to alleviate the electricity issue. The lack of a sufficient reservoir at the Mount Coffee Power plant has been identified as a long-standing challenge, leading to operational gaps during dry seasons.

In order to solve this problem, the Executive Director for Planning, Engineering, and Major Connections at LEC, Dele I. Shobayo, disclosed on Wednesday that the country needs to invest between US$700 million to US$1 billion to construct a reservoir on the St. Paul River.

Shobayo said the construction of a reservoir upstream of St. Paul River now is essential to resolving the electricity issues in the country. Once completed, he added, the Mt. Coffee plant would be capacitated enough to generate more electricity that could even be sold to other neighboring countries as Ivory Coast is doing currently.

The current plant does not have a large reservoir to store enough water to generate energy during the dry season, and this has been a perennial problem over the years,” Shobayo said in an OKay FM interview on Wednesday.

The proposed reservoir project, which is considered capital-intensive, is projected to take four to five years to complete. The LEC management emphasizes the importance of this infrastructure development to improve the country’s electricity supply and meet the growing demand from an expanded customer base.

Giving some historicity to Liberia’s power crisis, Shobayo disclosed that in 1990, the Liberian government announced that it was committing US$300 million at the time towards developing the reservoir. “This shows that this problem has been a long standing issue, spanning nearly three decades and a half now,” he said.

The capacity of the Mount Coffee Hydro Plant during the dry season prior to the civil war was about five to 10 megawatts, and it is still five to 10 megawatts, despite the huge increase in the country’s population. This makes demand for power huge, he said.

“Before the country’s civil war, LEC was serving 35,000 customers, but today it has increased to 250,000 customers in the absence of proper upgrades on the plant as problems of the past still persist,” he noted.

Because of this situation, before the civil unrest, LEC had basically other power plants to complement the Mount Coffee Hydro during the dry season, which was a 40 megawatt power plant, and also had an HFO power plant, stating that “during the dry season, there was some form of load sharing, and there was a time that the LEC had to run those plants to close the gap.”

LEC management continues to be under the spotlight for its inability to provide stable power supply to customers across Monrovia and its environs in recent years, especially since the inception of President Boakai’s administration. The situation has been alarming since the end of January 2024, thereby raising serious concerns in various communities.

During this period of the year, LEC experienced most of the challenging issues with our operations. We are working within the constraints to see how we can provide power to our customers. All is well even though we are working under very hard pressure, but we are doing our best to meet the demand of our customers within the available supply,” Shobayo said.

He disclosed that the Mount Coffee Hydro only runs four hours now, which begin at 7 p.m. and shut down at 11 p.m. due to the lack of water supply.

Liberia has one of the lowest floors of water this year, according to meteorological statistics. “We were receiving 1,600 meters per second during the heat of the rainy season, but now they are receiving just 19 meters per second,” Shobayo noted.

Asked what preparation LEC made for the dry season, Shobayo referenced the power purchase agreement (PPA) between Ivory Coast, particularly Compagnie Ivoirienne d’Electricit√© (CIE), and Liberia.

“Preparation for the dry season is not a year-long activity but a three-year plan, which means that to prepare for the dry season in 2025, 2026, and 2027, Liberia or LEC has to begin now,” he said

He indicated that what CIE provides to Liberia is what the LEC is distributing to its customers. “But we now have focused on the long term plan to ensure that we are not depending on anyone. And the best we can do is to construct the reservoir,” he said.

With the signing of the PPA for 2023 and 2024 with CIE, Liberia received a bill of a little over US$23.4 million. The government has paid US$8.9 million, and LEC on its own has paid US$12 million, so the deficit is just a little over US$2 million, Shobayo said.

He, however, disclosed that the low supply of power from Ivory Coast to Liberia this year is based on technical issues and the recent hosting of the African Cup of Nations, not the debt owed the entity, stating that LEC last week paid the amount of US$7.1 million to the company.

He said the CIE delegation will be in Liberia next week, and the LEC management will sit with them to discuss the overall objective of increasing power to 50 megawatts, which will be able to cater to the average demand during the dry season.

Thomas Zailee Gonkerwon, LEC’s Executive Director for Distribution & Transmission, said it’s not like LEC is not engaging Ivory Coast or doing nothing about the power issue now, but there are operational issues that come about.

“The supplier will tell you that I am able to provide only this amidst having this agreement and you don’t have an alternative,” he said.

According to him, Ivory Coast has been having some issues, both technical and demand, and they have been providing electricity to Liberia on a continuous basis. However, the main issue is that the volume is fluctuating based on what is available to them.

“On the issues of transmission and distribution, we will only transmit and distribute what we receive and so our cumulative volume now we are receiving is unable to meet up with the demand of power,” he said.

“Electricity is social, political and economic and we have to now balance all of this. We know that Liberian society is mixed, which includes industrial, residential, functional offices, and commercial with everything in one place at the same time. We don’t have a time functional economy and Liberia’s economy is a 10-hour economy only,” he said.

Meanwhile, the current reliance on power supply from Ivory Coast underscores the immediate need for sustainable solutions to enhance Liberia’s energy security and reduce dependency on external sources.

Despite facing operational challenges and fluctuations in power supply, LEC says it remains committed to addressing the pressing power needs of Liberians.

It goes without saying that collaborative efforts with Ivory Coast and strategic planning for long-term power solutions are crucial steps towards enhancing Liberia’s electricity infrastructure and meeting the demands of a diverse economic landscape.

SOURCE: Observer

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