Public Eager for Cheap Hydro Power

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Liberians can’t wait to see their homes and business lighted, not just with any kind of electricity but reliable and cheap electricity—and fortunately the Liberia Electricity Corporation LEC is ready to do just that, after decades of humiliating darkness.

On the heels of the dedication of the ever anticipated Mt. Coffee Hydropower plant by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Thursday, Board Chair of the LEC, Ian Yhap declared that Liberians’ time of living in darkness has finally come to an end.

Mr. Yhap noted that the LEC is in full readiness for the distribution of power across the country, though Monrovia and its immediate environs, where majority of the country’s main economic activities take place, would be given first priority.

Chairman Yhap made the remarks on Thursday at the commissioning of the first 22 megawatts at the Mount Coffee Hydroelectric Plant held in White Plain outside Monrovia. He said with the hydro now in full swing, every home will be connected as the hydro reaches its full potential soon.

According to him, from communities to villages and towns, people need electricity to empower them and the LEC stands ready leaving no stones unturned to ensuring a vibrant energy sector.

“Liberians can now turn off the candles and turn on the crystal clear lights,” he said, adding that the LEC will continue to make significant investment on human development and the wellbeing of its workers.

Well, not quite yet. There were mixed reactions on social media over the weekend about the new development. While many lauded the government for the milestone achievement, a number of already-connected LEC customers expressed disappointment that their connections had no service even though the hydro was finally turned on. Others rightly argued that the distribution of service from the hydro would be an incremental process as the other turbines are installed over the course of the next several months to enhance capacity. In spite of the turbines to be installed, there is also the task of expanding the grid with light poles and cables to reach various communities.

President Sirleaf’s vision of ‘small light today, big light tomorrow’ has taken incremental steps to reach hydro status since the public utility was served from HFO (Heavy Fuel Oil) generators onto the national grid. “We are going from zero based to capacity in megawatts and supplemented by regional interconnection under the ages of West African Power Pool,” President Sirleaf had promised.

To ordinary Liberians, he said, the President’s promise meant a radical change of pace in bringing light to the land, and no doubt that the revolutionary change to move the people forward from lesser light to greater light.

“We must continue with our giant partners, including MCC, European Investment Bank, and the Government of Norway among others as we strive to bring greater consumers’ access to services at our expansion,” he said.

Also speaking, United States Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield lauded the Government of Liberia and President Sirleaf for the commitment to expand access to reliable electricity for the people. She also lauded Liberia’s continued strong partnership with the United States.

“During my time in Liberia as Ambassador, I remember seeing young kids studying outside under streetlights. They were always out, even in the rain and the heat, because of lack of electricity in their homes. These kids didn’t have full pencils. These kids’ pencils were down to the end with nub, sharpened with a razor blade,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

She said with the rehabilitation of the Mount Coffee Hydroelectric Plant, the government is one step closer to providing those kids with electricity in their homes as well as one step closer to providing the opportunity that Liberia’s next generation deserves.

“Today’s milestone is important for many reasons. Currently, the cost of electricity in Liberia is among the highest in the world, with only two percent of the population having access to the electric grid. But through the restoration of this plant, Liberia is on the path of changing this in a big way,” she noted.

Nancy Lee, Deputy Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), said she was delighted to join the people of Liberia and other local and international partners to celebrate the milestone.

“After five years, the government launched a far-sighted plan to restore this facility. And today, I am proud that as part of its US$257 million compact with the Government of Liberia, MCC has joined international partners as the largest contributor to this ambitious project,” Madam Lee said.

She said despite significant challenges, including the devastating Ebola virus outbreak in Liberia, “we are celebrating the progress made together.”

The MCC Deputy boss said “Liberians are at a giant step closer to reliable, renewable and affordable energy in their homes and businesses and it represents the opportunity that Liberia’s next generation deserves.

According to her, it is estimated that nearly half a million people will benefit in very direct ways from this compact.

“Power drives business growth. Survey showed that one in four businesses in low-income countries say that access to power is their top constraint to growth. Power changes people’s lives. Students can study at night and connect to the world through the internet, and allow hospitals to treat patients with better equipment. Streetlights can make it safer for women and girls to go out at night,” MCC Deputy Lee said.

Madam Lee said she was delighted that MCC’s investment in Mount Coffee is meeting the needs of the people not just in cities miles away, but right in communities.

The occasion was attended by many top government officials and other dignitaries, including Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai, the current and two immediate past US Ambassadors, Christine Elder, Deborah Malac, and Linda Thomas Greenfield.

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