Mt.Coffee Hydro Dam Rehabilitation Work Halted

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Rehabilitation work at the Mount Coffee Hydro Dam,  located in Harrisburg, Upper Montserrado County, has come to an immediate halt, and all expatriate staffs have reportedly packed bags and baggage and left the country.

The LEC expatriate staff have left the country owing to fear of contracting the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), which has taken  the lives of over 500 Liberians, including health workers.

Rehabilitation work at the Mt. Coffee Hydro-electric Power Plant commenced in May 2013 with the establishment of the Project Implementation Unit (PIU), while actual construction started On January 2014.

According to the project blue print, the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) aims to fully complete the project by the end of 2016 and the target date for first commercial power from the plant remains December 2015.  But with the seeming abandonment of work at the dam by international firms contracted to carry out various portions of the project,  for fear of contracting the EVD, there are apprehensions that all  efforts aimed at rehabilitating that vital national power  grid seem  farfetched.

In December 2006, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf disclosed that her government was considering other alternatives of power supply. She indicated then that refurbishing the Mt. Coffee Hydro Power Plant would cause government more than US$200 million.

Following the provision of light in and around Monrovia under the theme ‘Small Light Today, Big Light Tomorrow’, Liberia still remains a country without the needed electricity necessary for the powering of mini and full scale factories, homes and offices.

Currently, the running of Liberia’s only electric power generation company (LEC)  now rests with a Canadian company called Monitaba Hydro International (MHI) and the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC).

Owing to the agreement underpinning the Memorandum of Understanding concluded  between the MHI and the LEC, the LEC is currently headed by a Canadian named Gregory J. Sylvester of the MHI, as Chief Executive Officer.

But Greg, as he is commonly called, has also departed Liberia since about a month ago and left the running of the company in the hands of his Liberian counterparts.

The Project Implementation Unit (PIU), which is the prime  driver of the rehabilitation of the Mt. Coffee Dam, is also headed by one Randal Enns, another foreign national, who has reportedly left Liberia for fear of contracting the Ebola Disease.

When contacted, Hassan Kiawu, communication consultant at the LEC, confirmed that almost all of the expatriate staffs working at the Hydro Dam have departed Liberia and gone to seek safe havens outside Liberia.

Asked when the contractors, mainly foreigners, will return, Kiawu said he could not speak to that as the PIU was a project outside the ambit of his job description. He referred our reporter to Benedict Sarnor, Acting Chairman of the LEC Board of Directors and Patrick Sendolo, Minister of Lands Mines and Energy.

However, according to the PIU website, the Mt. Coffee rehabilitation project is co-financed by the Government of Norway, Government of Germany (KWF), European International Bank and the Liberian Government,  respectively.

Interestingly, local contractors who have been hired to do bits and pieces in the Mt. Coffee Hydro Dam location have also  complained that they have not been paid by the PIU.  

However, the LEC, through the PIU, has so far signed contracts with a number of international firms to help rehabilitate and reconstruct the Hydro Dam.

According to the PIU website,  to date four of the seven main project contracts have been awarded.

On April 30, 2013, LEC signed Consulting Services Agreement with Norplan/Fichtner for Mt. Coffee Owner’s Engineer Services.  The Owner’s Engineer is responsible for project design planning and procurement. On October 25, 2013, LEC signed a contract with Voith Hydro for Mt. Coffee Generating Equipment and on January 9, 2014 LEC signed another contract with Dawnus International Ltd. for Mount Coffee Enabling works.

The latest contract signed with Andritz Hydro GMbH for Hydraulic Steelwork and Auxiliary Systems now puts the total sum of money so far bankrolled for the rehabilitation of the Mt. Coffee Dam in the Millions.

The LEC communication boss could not give the exact amount so far utilized on the project. But it is believed that all of these projects, plus three more to be awarded, will effectively lead to full rehabilitation the dam.

Recently, the World Health Organization spokesperson, Glenn Thomas, told the BBC in an interview that funds  intended to be used to carry out development in the Ebola affected countries will be redirected to help fight the Ebola Virus in those countries.

Just few weeks following the outbreak of the Ebola scourge in the Minor River Basin, the World Bank donated US$5  billion for the African electric power project.  

According to the World Bank, the money will be given to six African countries to be utilized in electric power project generation. The bank’s donation is mainly for countries incorporated under Barak Obama Power Africa Initiative.  The benefitting countries include Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

Dr. Jim Young Kim, World Bank President, announced the bank’s intervention at the African leaders’ summit held in America and said the donation will help address Africa’s  electric power challenges.

Development experts here believed that the money is coming at a time when the Mt. Coffee Hydro Dam is being placed on ice. It is also not clear whether Liberia’s share of that amount will be redirected towards the fight against the deadly Ebola Virus.

The Liberia rural electrification project, initiated in collaboration with the West Africa Power Pool (WAPP), has also been seriously affected as most communities in the rural parts are being quarantined.

Moreover, Ghanaian and Ivoirian electrical engineers working on the rural electrification project in the North Eastern part of Liberia have also reportedly left the country so as to avoid contracting the Ebola disease.

Construction of the Mt. Coffee hydropower plant was first undertaken in 1964. The first phase, with an installed capacity of 34 MW from two turbines, was commissioned and put in production in 1967. The project was undertaken by the government of Liberia (GOL), with financing from the United States government.

The installation of two additional turbines in 1973 increased the installed capacity to 64 MW.  This second phase was financed by the World Bank.

From 1973 until late 1989, Liberia’s electricity service was largely limited to the capital of Monrovia and environs; with around 35,000 customers—almost 13 percent of the population—served by 1989. LEC also handled the electricity supply of rural areas outside Monrovia through 10 small isolated power systems with a total installed capacity of 13 MW.

During the period of civil unrest in Liberia, power generation at Mount Coffee had to be stopped and operation of the spillway gates was prevented by the hostilities.  Rebel forces under the command of Charles Taylor seized the Mt. Coffee plant in July 1990, halting production and causing the dam to breach. 

  Efforts have been underway since 2006 to restore the Monrovia grid and expand mini-grid and stand-alone power systems in the interior. 

Following the restoration of peace, rehabilitation of Mt. Coffee Hydropower Plant has been proposed as an important part of the reconstruction efforts led by H.E. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. 

Now with the intrusion of the Ebola Virus and the resulting immediate halting of the Mt. Coffee Hydro Dam reconstruction and rehabilitation, it could be long coming before light reaches many homes, offices and factories across Liberia.

When completed, the dam,  which had a capacity 64 mw is expected to have 80 mw. With all of these developments, analysts here think the PIU target date for supplying the first commercial current in December 2015 may not be on schedule.

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