US grants Liberia $257m to get its only power plant working

The US government is to grant Liberia $257m to help the Ebola-ravaged country get its only power plant working again.

The money, equal to more than a quarter of the country’s GDP forecast for 2015, will help rehabilitate the Mount Coffee hydroelectric plant, now derelict but once Liberia’s main source of electricity.

It was granted by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an agency set up by the US in 2004 to provide aid to emerging economies.

The cash will be used to rehabilitate the plant’s water intake and pipelines, to construct road maintenance centres, and to set up a training centre, according to a statement released by Liberia’s Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.

63MW at peak

Mount Coffee was built as a two-turbine plant in 1966, and another two turbines were added in 1973.

At its peak it generated 63MW of power.

Fewer than 2% of Liberia’s population has access to grid-delivered electricity, and the country generates less than 23MW

But operations ceased during the country’s prolonged period of civil war, which finally ended in 2003.

While it was neglected the plant’s reservoir became surcharged, leading to the destruction of the 12m-high dam.

Looters ransacked the plant’s electrical and mechanical equipment, as well.

The aim is now to reconstruct the dam and install modern turbines to increase output to 80MW, which would be enough to provide power throughout Liberia, once a distribution grid is built.

At present, design and planning work has been completed, contracts have been awarded for the main roles on the project team and preliminary work is under way on accommodation for the workforce (pictured).

The consulting engineers on the scheme are Norplan of Norway and Fichtner of Germany. These companies have had teams on site since May 2013.

The new turbines are to be provided by Voith Hydro of Germany, the rehabilitation works will be carried out by Andritz Hydro of Austria.

Substations and other distribution equipment will be supplied by Saudi Arabia’s National Contracting and Sweden’s Eltel Networks.

In June, the UK’s Dawnus International was awarded a $62m contract for the main civil works package for the dam’s reconstruction.

Less than 2% have power

The government of Liberia regards the Mount Coffee scheme as the cornerstone of its economic plans as the country recovers from the ebola virus.

According to figures from USAID, the US overseas aid agency, fewer than 2% of Liberia’s population has access to grid-delivered electricity, and the country generates less than 23MW.

Most homes and business rely on expensive and polluting diesel generators, which account for about 10 times more power than the grid.

The scheme will be implemented over a five-year period by a special purpose vehicle to be known as the Millennium Challenge Account – Liberia.

Photograph: A housing unit for construction workers underway at Mount Coffee in July 2015 (Liberia Electricity Corporation)

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