The Promise of Solar Energy: Can It Help Save Our Forests?

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Foreign Minister Marjon Kamara recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in New York for the building of a 10-megawatt solar photovoltaic plant in Monrovia.

It is to be constructed by an American-Dutch-Israeli company, Gigawatt Global Cooperatief UA. Remy Reinstein signed on behalf of Gigawatt.

Minister Kamara described the signing as “a groundbreaking event as Liberia is on the trajectory (path) of strengthening relations with the State of Israel.”

We welcome the prospect of expanding solar energy in Liberia because it is believed that it is far cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels. Solar energy is considered the world over as “clean energy,” without the flames and fumes emitted by generators.

If indeed solar energy is a cheaper source of electricity, then companies involved should undertake an intensive information and publicity campaign to highlight the benefits of solar power to an energy-starved country like Liberia. Key to this campaign should be the use of solar energy in cooking. If indeed Liberians can be convinced about the inexpensive and effective use of solar energy in the kitchen, this could be a national lifesaver. It would be a big business venture, since it would mean that if it can be successfully introduced in most Liberian homes, the use of charcoal would be minimal. This could have a highly positive effect on our forests and vegetation, which pay a very high price for charcoal making, now the primary means by which most Liberian homes cook their food and boil their water.

This has for a long time taken a very heavy toll on Liberia’s forests and green vegetation.

Solar companies and the Liberian government should enter into serious collaboration to promote this information and publicity campaign to highlight the positive uses of solar energy. This would encourage our people to use solar instead of charcoal. But the campaign must convince the people that solar power is cheaper. When this is done, more and more Liberians would opt for solar and our forests would be saved from further destruction. This is important, we think, if Liberia is to maintain its position as West Africa’s last remaining rainforest.

We need, in this connection, to be in constant touch with the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), to ensure that it is effectively and prudently managing our forests, and that there is no clandestine or deceptive exploitation going on.

We recall an exclusive interview that then Agriculture Minister, Dr. Florence Chenoweth, granted the Daily Observer on July 20, 2012. In response to a specific question about the status of Liberia’s rainforests, Minister Chenoweth confidently told the newspaper’s editors that “Liberia’s forests are intact. We have no problem there.”

Alas, a few months later, it was discovered that the FDA Board of Directors, of which Minister Chenoweth was Chairman, and its senior staff, were summarily disbanded. Why? The management, headed by Managing Director Moses Wogbeh, had been surreptitiously granting “Private Use Permits (PUPs)” to a number of forest raiders who had embarked on a relentless illegal logging scheme, speedily cutting down our trees everywhere they could find them.

This scandal led President Sirleaf to also fire Wogbeh and turn him over to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. He was later convicted of the crime and served a lengthy prison term.

There have been recent allegations that the new FDA management, headed by Harrison Karnwea, had granted permission to certain oil palm companies to do logging in their areas of operation. But both Karnwea and the oil palm companies have vigorously denied these allegations.

We think we can speculate that Karnwea is no Chenoweth. We cannot see how and why he would pursue such a perilous path when he knows fully well that one day it will be exposed.

We, of course, remember vividly Edwin Barclay’s warning of how people perennially forget history.

“O History,” he wrote in his immortal poem, Human Greatness, “Upon thy glowing page, Time writes her judgments, but she writes in vain. Her symbols man misreads in every age, And garners thence, but legacies of pain.”

The Solar MOU signed by Foreign Minister Kamara leaves many questions unanswered. First, what does the solar plant cost? Who will pay for it and how? There is mention of debt. Is this yet a new debt that GOL and the Israelis are heaping upon Liberia? How much is this debt? Can we afford it? Will the users of the solar energy be able to pay for it, in order to enable GOL to repay the debt? Remember, the Jews give nothing for nothing.

Or is this like the Firestone Loan of 1926, which K.Y. Best in his book on Albert Porte called “a pound of flesh”?

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