Liberia: ‘Big Light’ Returns to Liberia As Hydro Plant Starts Production

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The country launched the ambitious plan, with support from the U.S. and other international partners, several years ago. Nancy Lee, the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation, writes that what was only a dream then becomes a reality this week with the commissioning of the first turbine at Mount Coffee, which will begin producing 22 megawatts of electricity to provide the people and businesses of Liberia more reliable access to electricity.

It was indeed a moment to celebrate, and truly Liberians, led by those in the Caldwell–Up-river belt, yesterday led the national celebration as they lined the streets jubilating as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her entourage, comprising members of the diplomatic corps, top government officials and other development partners, proceeded to Harrisburg to officially switch on the Mount Coffee Hydropower Plant.

Harrisburg, a tiny settlement along the St. Paul River, was yesterday the focus of Liberians across the country, especially those in the consolidated areas of Monrovia, along with their compatriots in the Diaspora, development partners and well-wishers. This attraction was for a good cause; Liberians have been in the dark for too long (literally) and were finally on the verge of being liberated from humiliation, anguish and deprivation, once again by a national prime asset that also generated similar attention and celebration in the 1960s when the project was initially completed and dedicated.

The joyous dedication of the Mount Coffee Hydropower Plant could only be compared to the arrival of officers of the multinational United Nations peacekeeping operations in 2003, when Liberians took to the streets with joy to welcome the peacekeepers, who eventually brought relief to a beleaguered Monrovia and its residents.

In a similar manner, Mt. Coffee’s dedication is expected to bring relief, making available efficient and cheap electricity. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, visibly overwhelmed with joy, said the Mt. Coffee Hydropower plant would provide a sustainable and cost-efficient supply of electrical energy, and would gradually, as the remaining turbines are installed, replace operations of emergency diesel engines that are presently used throughout the country.

President Sirleaf noted that the hydro will also facilitate the continuation of the re-electrification of the capital, as well as the start of meaningful rural electrification in the country.

This latter benefit, President Sirleaf said, is particularly relevant in the light of the West Africa Power Pool (WAPP) regional transmission line project, which will connect electricity systems of Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, which is linked to the Mt. Coffee Rehabilitation.

In her statement President Sirleaf said it was a promise gloriously fulfilled and a promise of hope for the future–a future that will see the entire country covered with cheap, clean and reliable energy. “We are grateful to God first, and our partners who brought us at this level today. This is a great moment for us and we all must celebrate,” she said.
 
The first of four turbines dedicated by the President will produce 22 megawatts of electricity that the LEC will distribute to homes and businesses. It is anticipated that by next year, the hydro will be fully functional to produce up to 88 megawatts of power.
 
Mt. Coffee will add considerable value to Liberia’s national welfare, and will serve as Liberia’s backbone electricity supply asset that will provide reliable, renewable power services to Liberians and contribute to the restoration of economic growth to pre-war levels.
 
Costs of the project include economic capital, operation and maintenance inputs, and the price of land such for agricultural output. And experts say the economic benefits of the hydro are far greater than the cost.
 
This new feat couldn’t have been achieved without the generous support of international partners such as the Kingdom of Norway, Federal Republic of Germany, the European Investment Bank and the United States Government, through its Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
 
The US team was led by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and former Ambassador to Liberia, Linda Thomas Greenfield along with MCC Deputy CEO Nancy Lee, while the Norwegian Government was represented by Foreign Minister Børge Brende. Also present was former US Ambassador to Liberia Deborah Malac.
 
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield in a statement noted that, “This is really a great day for Liberia and I’m happy to be a part of this celebration. We are few steps closer to realizing our dream.”

She said the destruction of the hydro in 1990s brought a lot of disappointment and pains to the Liberian populace, but that its rehabilitation has again brought hopes alive. “This has taken a lot of efforts to reach thus far,” she added.

The US Assistant Secretary noted that her government’s contribution to the project was part of President Barrack Obama’s Power Africa Project which seeks to provide sixteen million homes across the African continent with 3,000 megawatts of electricity.

Vice President Joseph Boakai and Deputy Speaker Hans Barchue as well as other top members of the National Legislature also graced the occasion.

President Sirleaf later proceeded to the Harrisburg Township where she symbolically unveiled electricity to the residents.