Mount Coffee Hydro project steers Liberia into energy sustainability and economic growth

mt-coffeeThe turning on of Mount Coffee Hydro project for the first time in 26 years has been billed as the biggest milestone accelerating Liberia’s economic gains and bringing life back to the streets of Monrovia.

Mount Coffee Hydro Project was of several projects including the White Plains Water Treatment Plant, the Monrovia Consolidated School System and JFK Memorial Medical Center, U.S. President Kennedy promised to President William V. S. Tubman in the 1960s.

Construction of the facility began in 1964 by the Monrovia Power Authority using Raymond Concrete Pile Company as the contractor and Stanley Consultants as the project managers. In 1966, the power company completed the initial phase of the dam and began generating electricity.

The project was finished in 1967 and named the T. J. R. Faulkner W.F. Walker Hydroelectric Power Station.

Initial generating capacity was 30 MW produced by two turbines, which was increased to 64 MW when two more turbines were added in 1973. The Monrovia Power Authority became the Liberia Electricity Corporation on July 12, 1973.

In June 1990, the government announced plans to more than double the electricity generating capacity of the project and adding a reservoir to allow more generation during the dry season.

The plans called for a new 4,000 feet dam to be built upriver on the Via River to provide storage capacity, while two 52 MW turbines would be added at the existing power generating plant. The US$300 million expansion was never begun due to the Civil War.

Then came the civil war in 1990. The dam was ransacked, and left in ruins. And the future hope of Liberia’s economy was dashed. Rebel forces under the command of Charles Taylor seized the Mt. Coffee plant in July 1990, halting production and causing the dam to breach.

Approximately 180 meters of the 12.2 m high dam, which was founded on overburden, was eroded down to bedrock. Until construction, including lifting of the spillway gates, began in January 2014, uncontrolled discharge continued through the partially open spillway and, in the wet season, through the breach.

With the shut-down of generation, the powerhouse was vandalized and virtually stripped of power generation equipment, and much of the gate equipment. The powerhouse cladding was also removed.

The remainder of Liberia’s electricity infrastructure was almost entirely destroyed during the conflict.

Many residents of Monrovia either have to run their own generator for either businesses or homes. Only a privilege few – 3 per cent of the population of Monrovia have access to electricity generated from diesel and heavy fuel oil generators being regulated by the Liberia Electricity Corporation.

The cost of electricity in Liberia is currently the highest in the sub-region (46kwh). This situation impedes economic development, and therefore the Government of Liberia has fully committed itself to the Mt. Coffee Rehabilitation Project. Rehabilitation of the Mt. Coffee hydro plant was identified as the best option for low-cost and sustainable energy generation in the near term.

Following the restoration of peace, rehabilitation of Mt. Coffee was proposed as an important part of the reconstruction efforts led by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

In 2011 the Government of Liberia requested financing for the project from the Government of Norway, KFW Development Bank of Germany, and the European Investment Bank. The Financing Agreement between EIB and the GOL was signed on December 28, 2012, for a concessionary loan in the amount of €50 million.

Two Cooperation Agreements were signed between GOL and GoN on June 13 and July 4, 2013 in support of the Mt. Coffee Project Implementation Unit and the Hydropower Rehabilitation Project, respectively, for a total grant amount of NOK450 million.

A Financing and Project Agreement was signed between KfW and the GoL on September 30, 2013, for a grant in the amount of €25 million. The Government of Liberia committed to providing $45 million and covering any cost overruns.

Over the first two years of project implementation it became evident that the project budget was significantly under-estimated, as evidenced by the market response to tenders; cost increases also occurred due to the Ebola crisis of 2014 – 2015, and design optimization decisions agreed by the stakeholders.

The Ebola crisis hindered the Government of Liberia’s ability to provide the originally committed amount of US$45 million. Therefore, additional financing was sought in 2015.

As a result, the Millennium Challenge Compact was signed between the U.S. Government and the GOL on October 2, 2015 for a grant towards the Mt. Coffee Project of $146.8 million including contingency, plus additional support for environmental/social activities.

The Government of Liberia also requested additional financing of the Government of Norway and KfW. In response, an Addendum to the original Cooperation Agreement between the GoN and GoL was signed on December 1, 2015, for a grant of NOK 92 million, and a Supplemental Financing Agreement was signed between KfW and GOL for €30 million on November 26, 2015. In order to ensure full availability of financing, the GOL also requested EIB to provide up to an additional €20 million loan.

The joint financing covered rehabilitation of the hydropower plant and reservoir, the construction of a 132/66 kilovolt (kV) substation at Mount Coffee, two 132/66 kV transmission lines between Mount Coffee and Monrovia, and the expansion of the two receiving substations in Monrovia.

The project does not include distribution of the hydropower-based electricity all the way to households; this remains the responsibility of LEC.

Development of the 225 kV transmission line from the Mount Coffee substation to neighboring countries continues to be arranged through the West African Power Pool (WAPP), in a parallel process.

Source: Africa Business Communities

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