TRANSCO CLSG Edges Closer to Solving Liberia’s Power Quagmire; Transmission Towers and Substations Completion Set for December 2019
Report By: Alpha Daffae Senkpeni / firstname.lastname@example.org
Buchanan – It’s a sunny Monday afternoon on the outskirt of the port city of Buchanan, Julio Picado shows a group of visitors around a camp yard stockpiled with high-grade materials intended for the construction of high voltage electrical transmission line.
“So, all of these materials here are being used for the erection of the transmission towers,” says Picado, senior foreman of an European engineering joint venture firm, JV EIFFAGE-ELECNOR.
The company is one of many contracted by TRANSCO CLSG to build a high voltage 225Kv transmission line for the transmission of high-grade electricity to Liberia from Côte d’Ivoire, then to Sierra Leone and Guinea. It is a double circuit transmission line with a transit capacity of 486 MW, but equipped with an initial transit capacity of 243MW.
Massive rolls of gigantic conductors, tower materials, insulators and stringing machines – all shipped to Liberia – are spread across the compound.
The gathering of materials and equipment began since August 2017, says Picado. He adds that additional 10 containers of materials were offloaded earlier during the day.
Leading the tour of the camp yard is Mohammed Mulibah Sherif – a man with the keenest view of everything happening in the compound. He’s meticulous and inquisitive: asking critical questions about all the small details and probing further if responses appear ambiguous.
Mr. Sherif is the General Manager of TRANSCO CLSG or Transmission Company Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinée. The firm is an ECOWAS regional supranational company with the objective of financing, constructing, owning, operating, maintaining, and developing the Interconnection power line for the region.
As part of the project, a high voltage power line is being built to connect the four countries and increase the efficiency of power supply for economic growth in the region.
Mr. Sherif, a seasoned Liberian Economist, and a project manager had flown in from Abidjan to Monrovia the day before for a major mission: inspect all the works done so far on the line and substations in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire.
On an inspection tour with his team of engineers and project experts in Grand Bassa County, he would later rate the progress of work done as “B+”. But outlined that the limited months of the dry season is an issue for underground engineering works for the towers.
“We tried to come up with strategies to sort of expedite the process of approvals for soil investigation and tower investigation and so forth. So, fortunately for us the engineer that is currently supervising the project beef up its team of engineering experts to approve foundation design and foundation testing for the contractors led to improvements in terms of building foundations, erecting towels as you can see,” he explains after inspecting several newly erected towers in Grand Bassa County, which connect the line to Yekepa, Nimba County.
Towers are already going up pretty fast. Eleven had been built by UTE Elecnor/EIFFAGE already while in just 10 days, the other contractor, National Construction Company of India or NCC, has erected three. The former is running the line from Yekepa to Buchanan, while the latter is connecting Buchanan to Mount Coffee and then to Bo Waterside at the Sierra Leone-Liberia boarders.
About 50 miles away from UTE’s camp yard, stands NCC’s camp, which is along the Cotton Tree-Buchanan highway. The compound is also stocked with hundreds of boxes, poles, insulators, rolls of conductors and stringing machines – meant for the construction of the other line.
The line will stretch from Yekepa to Buchanan, covering 230 kilometers with 569 towers and the other, covering 300 kilometers with 573 towers, will run from Buchanan through Margibi County to Mount Coffee and then to Bo Waterside, into Sierra Leone.
“The power will come from Cote d’Ivoire initially – the line is coming from Man to Danane, to Yekepa connecting Buchanan to Mount Coffee to Bo Waterside crossing Sierra Leone into Guinea,” Mr. Sherif explains the geographic of the line.
When completed, it will massively surpass the 88 megawatts capacity of Mount Coffee – Liberia’s main power source – and will produce a voltage capacity of 225 KV volts with a double circuit producing 486 megawatts.
“But initially equipped with a 243 megawatts transit capacity in the first circuit …; you’ll have a double circuit line (and) the first circuit is 243 megawatts. The idea now is we are thinking about concluding the second circuit at the same time concluding the first circuit so [in] total will be 486 megawatts transmission capacity,” Sherif said.
Substation on Track
Meanwhile, a couple of miles outside Buchanan along the highway, several earth-moving machines are seen parked on a 10 acre of land already compacted and neatly landscaped.
Several trenches filled with concrete and steels are visible. Excavation works have been ongoing for the past weeks. Caution signs are erected, restricting the movements of anyone visiting.
This is where one of five substations will be built. The substations are the points where the power running through the lines will be connected across the country, according to the engineers.
Four substations, funded by the German Development Bank or KFW, were earlier approved before the fifth one – to be built in Botota, Bong County – was finalized by the current Government of Liberia and will also be funded by KFW, according to the TRANSCO CLSG boss.
“Initially, we had four: Yekepa, Buchanan, Mount Coffee, and Bo Waterside but then the question came about, what will happen with central Liberia?” said Mr. Sherif, recalling negotiations leading to the approval of the fifth substation.
“Because where you don’t have substation the issue of connection is difficult, you cannot connect to the line. What happens to the people in central Liberia – Lofa, Bong County and so forth? So we decided to work with the previous government to begin the conversation; to get the fifth substation.
“When that conversation began, we got in principle acceptance that yes the fifth substation will come, then came the current government – Samuel Tweah, Minister of Finance and Development Planning with his support – we were able to finalize it and we signed the grant agreement with the KFW – 18 million Euros for the fifth substation.”
Seiyuan, the Chinese engineering firm hired to construct the facilities, is fast-tracking the work to meet up with the timeline. Everything appears to be happening simultaneously.
Just about a mile or two away from the under-construction substation, UTE ELECNOR/EIFFACE and NCC engineers are busy erecting more towels on the two separate sites.
They are confident that beginning December 2019 up to March 2020, the line and substations in Liberia will be completed.
“Our project is based on what we planned and what we are working toward is to have the line and substations commissioned in Liberia beginning December 2019,” explains Mohammed Sow, TRANSCO CLSG engineering and contract specialist.
“In particular, we are expected to do phase commissioning where you’ll have a section that are completed and commissioned. This means, commissioning of substations is expected in July 2019 and September 2019 while commissioning of the line will begin in by December 2019. Our target to complete the entire project in the four countries is first quarter of 2020.”
Synergy Impacting Project
The cooperation amongst all major players of the energy sector in the country is steering the progress, says Jerry Taylor, Transco CLSG Country Manager for Liberia, who was also inspecting the ongoing civil works.
Mr. Taylor reckons that despite “bureaucracy at some level” all hands are on deck including the governments.
“We meet once a month specifically on the CLSG project to ensure that those little things that hinder are taken care of. If we have a hindrance on the field, if someone is blocking, we find solutions,” he said.
“Everybody is involved in it – the Minister of Energy, the Minister of Labor and if we have to bring people in, like experts, because we have lots of expatriates on the ground who are working within the framework of the project and they come in on gratis, we don’t have any problem with how they get their visas.”
With the support of the government, the project is hitting new heights showing the prospect of easing Liberia’s economic woes, which will be influenced by stable and affordable power.
‘Tremendous’ Economic Prospect
The project is expected to enhance regional power supply and spur economic growth in the four countries, and Mr. Sherif predicts that it will have a “tremendous impact” on Liberia’s economy.
“First, it is an opportunity for rural electrification – we are going to provide that for the rural communities – those that the project will be impacting. When you take it from Buchanan all the way to Yekepa, villages along the way will benefit from the rural electrification component through a technology called the Shield-wire system,” he said.
He says villagers will be able to preserve their farm produce and school-going children will have access to electricity to facilitate their educational activities while health centers in rural Liberia will get connected.
At the same time, macroeconomic growth will expand both in the real sector, thereby impacting revenue generation for the government while there will be a significant cut in production cost for companies in the country.
For example, the TRANSCO CLSG boss predicts that corporations currently paying high tariff per kilowatts/hour will be paying affordable tariff that will increase their profit margins which ultimately spur economic growth and developments
“There will be a significant cut down into your overhead and when that happens your profit jumps up, and when there is corporate profit, the common expectation is that corporate income tax to government will increase and that in itself will spur economic growth and there is this trickle-down impact on the ordinary people,” he said; while also forecasting that employment rate is expected to grow, companies expected to expand and major plants are likely to open in the country given the presence of the affordable and high capacity voltage CLSG electric energy to absorb larger manufacturing firms.
“So, that in itself is a signal to tell the international community that we mean business…, affordable electricity can help us attract foreign direct investment.”
More Power Source
Several experts have already pointed to the high cost of power and how it is impeding Liberia’s economic growth. Others say most foreign firms eyeing the country are wary of the high cost of buying and maintaining generators.
The presence of Mount Coffee’s 88 megawatts is just a drop in the bucket for any major manufacturing plant. And the TRANSCO CLSG boss is cognizant that cheap, stable and reliable power is the engine for any economic growth.
He predicts that small and medium enterprises would grow steadily with the presence of TRANSCO CLSG line and substations.
“For example,” he explains, “In Buchanan, we will have a substation there with 33Kv, and 225 Kv, right there any major company on an industrial scale can open in Buchanan, so right there we can connect anybody. Now, LEC [will have] an opportunity to do more transmission and distribution, that means to do more connection at the household level.”
According to the plan, through the line Liberia Electricity Corporation will have more power for transmission and distribution.
TRANSCO CLSG will bring in the electricity to the substations while LEC would sell to customers based on a transmission service agreement with TRANSCO CLSG and Power Purchase Agreement with Cote D’Ivoire. This means the amount of power purchased will be transmitted through the substations and LEC will offtake it from the substations and distribute to customers.
“Assuming there’s a factory in Buchanan that wants electricity, they’ll go through LEC and if they want 50 megawatts, LEC will get that amount of megawatts through our line and get it to them,” he said.
“However, the new energy sector regulations in Liberia also provides the opportunity for big companies to go directly and sign Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with any independent producer – that means – they can use our line.
“For example, RIA [Roberts international Airport] or Mittal steel can buy electricity from a private power producer – they will just use our line and bring it directly to their plant, according to the new energy regulations.”
The availability of additional power generation in Liberia would also give Liberia the leverage to sell to other countries in the region, he said. The current studies by the World Bank on the St. Paul Riven Basin (VIA Dam) in Liberia provide such opportunity.
Mr. Sheriff says “regional interconnection is a big project” for the country to lure investors to the region, and there will be “confidence in terms of regional security, economic security, power security (because) power security is economic security – power security is human security, poverty security and that’s why they say we are coming to connect lights to the lives of the people.”