LEC Rising To The Challenge

By: Hassan Kiawu, Media/Communications Consultant

For several years after the end of the civil war, the Liberia Electricity Corporation, LEC had operated on low voltage as it struggled to resuscitate damaged facilities in a desperate attempt to illuminate a country darkened by 14 years of carnage and destruction. Nonetheless, the provision of electricity to many parts of Monrovia and the country, and the government’s ambitious plans to expand this basic social service to all and sundry has given all indications that LEC is getting higher on shocks.

In the aftermath of the war, the sounds of personal generators echoed across especially Monrovia, became the only source of electricity for many Liberians and businesses. The use of generators, which were foreign to Liberians came with a higher price as many suffered the effect of carbon monoxide which the generators produced. Many who could afford did so to ward off thieves and protect themselves. Then, there were only a handful of LEC customers mainly from Bushrod Island. But that was then.

Now fast forward to present: the achievements are clearly visible at the LEC as illustrated by the restoration of its basic functions in Monrovia. A small grid rebuilt in Monrovia has expanded the supply of electricity to this densely populated capital. This has increased LEC’s customer base exponentially from 2,469 in 2010 to over 19,000 customers. That accounts for 9.2 percent of the population of Monrovia and about three percent nationwide. Of this number 3,443 are commercial while 15,383 are residential. Peak demand (maximum demand during any given day) has also increased, although at a much lower rate, from 4MW in 2010 to 8MW in June 2012 and currently 9.5MW.

To date, the LEC has connected 9,324 customers on Bushrod Island, 4,171 in New Kru Town, 3,614 in Congo Town and 1,406 in Paynesville. More poles are being planted in other parts of Monrovia for the expansion of electricity. Installed generation capacity has steadily increased in the current 22.6MW of which about 16MW are effectively available.

In order to overcome the critical situation of the electricity sector in Liberia, the Government with support from donor community has been engaged in a number of development projects in the sector. With funding (US$230M) already secured from the Governments of Norway, Germany and Liberia, and the European Investment Bank to restore the Mount Coffee Hydro plant, ground breaking ceremony and work are expected to start in January 2014. The 80MW (wet season peak) plant is expected to become fully operational by June 2016 with the first commercial power unit capable of producing up to 22 MW of power restored in December, 2015.

The (Mount Coffee Hydro) Project Implementation Unit, PIU at the LEC has placed high premium on a capacity building program as part of efforts to enhance its work. Under this program, the PIU has hired five locally trained engineers from the University of Liberia and Stella Maris to form part of the team. The PIU has also contracted the services of Dawnus International Ltd, a British-based international civil engineering and construction company to carry out the Enabling Works for the Mount Coffee Hydropower Rehabilitation Project.

The Enabling Works will allow access to and inspection of the submerged parts of the hydropower plant structures. The process will also provide a safe working environment and construct temporary living quarters at the site for workers when construction begins in earnest. The Enabling Works will carry out standard penetration tests to analyze soil conditions in the areas where transmission line towers will be erected.

The Government has also stepped up its efforts to shift from expensive diesel-based generation to more cost effective heavy fuel based generation. In this pursuit at least three projects, totaling 38MW of HFO generation plants are currently under various stages of procurement and are expected to be operational by 2016.

Also, the implementation of a proposed regional 225KV transmission line project will link Liberia to the West Africa Power Pool (WAPP) with the potential of making cheaper sources of power available to the country, and to the development of transmission backbone of the country. The project will benefit among other counties, Nimba, Bong, Montserrado and Grand Cape Mount. The government aims to increase electricity coverage to 70 percent of the population in Monrovia and 35 percent nationwide by 2030.

Building of these initial results on the National Energy Policy, the Government’s objectives in the power sector have now shifted from managing an emergency situation to developing the sector in a sustainable manner by expanding and improving electricity services.  The recent launch of a Customer Care Center at the LEC waterside head office will boost service quality and delivery as customers will now have their issues amicably resolved on a single call and reduce the influx of customers that flock to the Commercial office to seek redress to their issues.

Liberia has long been a landlocked economy with no productive sectors working. However, the country can accrue immeasurable dividend from the multiplier effect of making electricity available-capable of bringing sustainable growth and development to the economy. As well as serving as a catalyst for economic growth, it will also serve as a magnet to attract direct foreign investments, enable local manufacturing companies to produce finished goods at affordable prices as well as provide job opportunities for the country’s jobless population.

The Ministry of Land Mines and Energy, MLME has prepared a short-term investment program for transmission and distribution, which would require investments of about US$101.8 million and could be implemented within the next three years. It is currently preparing a least cost power development Plan (LCPDP) to ensure that all the projects in the sector are consistent with the government’s development strategy and will provide a road map for the expansion of the sector over the next two decades.

Against this background, the World Bank’s engagement in the energy sector as reflected in its Country Assistance Strategy (CAS, 2009, and forthcoming CPS 2013) is targeting both (i) rural energy (ii) urban energy and (III) regional interconnections through the WAPP. With respect to the urban areas, the World Bank has been working closely with the MLME and with the LEC to rehabilitate and extend the network, and expand electricity services in the country. Following up on this work that started with the LESEP and LESEP Additional Financing , the bank is now preparing a third project that will continue this support to MLME and LEC and to the development of the electricity sector  in general: the Liberia Accelerated Electricity Expansion Project (LACEEP).

The main objectives of the LACEEP are to increase access to electricity and strengthen institutional capacity in the electricity sector. To achieve these objectives, the LACEEP focuses on three of the most pressing issues for the implementation of the government’s ambitious plans to expand electricity services in Liberia by 2030.

The first component supports the expansion of the transmission and distribution grid. The second components will create some of the conditions to shift from diesel to HFO-based thermal generation, needed for the country to effectively benefit from the price differential of the two fuels on the international market. Finally, the third component focuses on the strengthening of the institutional capacity within the government to lead the development of the electricity sector.

MLME will be responsible for the coordination of the overall project, including the preparation of regular progress reports. There will be two implementing agencies for the project: MLME and LEC. LEC will be responsible for the implementation of Component 1 (expansion of transmission and distribution while MLME will be responsible for the implementation of Component 2 (HFO facilities) and 3 (support to strengthen MLME’s institutional capacity).

Despite all these ambitious plans, the LEC is overwhelmed with some drawbacks-POWER THEFT. Millions of dollars of potential revenues are lost to power theft everyday at various communities. Some unscrupulous community dwellers are in the habit of carryout illegal connections in the middle of the night. These power thieves in turn charge households in their communities (up to US$40.00 monthly) hefty sums to get connected to stolen power. Unless government comes out with appropriate measures to put a check to this practice, LEC will continue to be the whale meat for many.