Liberia: Power purchase agreement with Côte d’Ivoire throws lifeline to Monrovia

By Dounard Bondo
Posted on Thursday, 27 October 2022 12:10

Shops are seen closed on the first day of lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Monrovia,
Monrovia, Liberia April 11, 2020. Picture taken April 11, 2020. REUTERS

The Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) recently penned a power purchase agreement with Côte d’Ivoire Energies (CIE) for the supply of electricity through the TRANSCO CLSG Transmission Line, a timely deal that will throw a lifeline to the electricity deprived country.

Following the signing of the agreement, the flow of 27 megawatts of power from Côte d’Ivoire will begin on 1 December. The deal will also lead to the electrification of over 100 rural communities in Liberia.

“The supply of energy from La Cote d’Ivoire will help stabilise our supply during the dry season when we face major energy deficits,” says minister of mines and energy Gesler E. Murray.

The inter-country transmission line is part of the master plan of the West African Power Pool (WAPP), which was created with the vision to “integrate the national power systems into a unified regional electricity market with the ultimate goal of providing regular and reliable energy at a competitive cost in the medium to long-term to citizens of the ECOWAS region”.

Earlier in 2012, a treaty was signed by the heads of state of the CLSG countries to establish a Special Purpose Company called TRANSCO CLSG, which stands for Transmission Company Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Liberia previously received power through the CLSG transmission line, yet its $9mn debt to provider Côte d’Ivoire resulted in an electricity outage in January.

War and beyond

Liberia has one of the lowest electricity access rates in the region despite yearly improvement. The country’s national energy policy states that it seeks to provide power to 70% of Monrovia’s population and 35% of the entire population by 2030. The current statistics are a far cry from such targets.

According to World Bank estimates, in 2020 just 27.5% of Liberia’s nearly four million population had access to electricity, with the majority of its rural population languishing without access to government-generated power.

The nation’s 12-year civil war is one of the reasons behind its electrical problems. Prior to the war, however, government-generated power was mostly limited to the capital Monrovia, its surroundings, and the capitals of several counties.

During the war, rebels seized the Mount Coffee dam, which was the primary source of electricity. Employees were forced to flee, transmission and distribution cables were destroyed, and the dam eventually spilled over and corroded the majority of the structure.

The supply of energy from La Cote d’Ivoire will help stabilise our supply during the dry season.”

Government power was not restored until 2007, three years after the war, and it was provided by generators. It wasn’t until 2016 that the Mount Coffee Hydro dam was rebuilt and power generation resumed.

Lack of funding

In recent times, the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) has come under a Liberian administration after its contract with Irish company ESBI ended earlier this year.

In order for the Liberian management to increase electricity generation and expand public access, the electricity corporation ought to overcome significant issues, such as funding.

As it stands, the slow expansion of the national grid saw illegal connections spread widely, thus increasing commercial losses. Additionally, government entities and large businesses customarily pile up unpaid electricity bills. Power theft and unpaid bills combined account for over 50% of the electricity produced by LEC.

In a 2021 call to action, US Ambassador to Liberia Michael McCarthy said: “Each connection that isn’t generating revenue is a step toward the collapse of the electric grid. About two-thirds of the electricity being generated by LEC does not result in revenue [due mostly to power theft].  Without that revenue, how can LEC fix the technical issues? How can they quickly respond to power interruptions? How can they continue to connect more of Liberia to the power grid?”

In a statement, the Liberia electricity corporation said: “With the signing of this agreement, the LEC management is confident that the country is getting closer to its national goal of increasing access to electricity for all Liberians. The management is encouraging all its customers currently connected to the national grid, to use the electricity wisely and not undermine its ability to serve the general public through misuse and theft.”

Mitigating load shedding

The deal between Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia is timely as the dry season in the latter nation typically starts at the end of October, which usually sees the LEC resort to load shedding.

The dry season causes a decrease in water levels at Mount Coffee Hydro Power Plant, Liberia’s main source of electricity, which weighs on electricity generation in the country.

The Liberian government said the agreement with Côte d’Ivoire will help authorities minimise planned power interruptions. It will also have a significant economic and social impact, with many businesses and households forced to incur additional expenses to secure electricity amid the LEC’s inconsistent supply.

Moreover, businesses seeking to connect to the national electricity grid face a great deal of red tape.

Connection cost

According to the World Bank’s 2021 Doing Business report, it takes an average of 482 days for a business to get connected with an astronomical cost of 2190.5% of income per capita.

“Given the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the economy and people’s livelihoods, improved energy access will stimulate inclusive economic growth while support to the informal sector will help the most vulnerable Liberians to recover from the loss in incomes,” Khwima Nthara, the World Bank Country Manager in Liberia, said last year.

Each connection that isn’t generating revenue is a step toward the collapse of the electric grid.”

To address the reduction in electricity generation during the dry season, the ministry of mines and energy has said it will implement strategies that include “the supply of electricity through CLSG, the repair of the Bushrod Thermal Plant generators, and repair of the damaged Turbine Unit at the Mount Coffee Hydro Power Plant”.

According to Liberia Electricity Corporation, “Liberia will shortly begin the implementation of a 20-megawatt solar project and the expansion of the Mt. Coffee Hydropower Plant by 44 megawatts. Additionally, West Africa Power Pool, the Government of Liberia, and the World Bank are developing plans to build a 112MW hydropower plant upstream of the St. Paul River”.

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