For the first time in more than 25 years, Mt Coffee is generating clean, renewable hydropower with the completion of the first of four generating units. The first hydropower turbine and generator unit, with an installed capacity of 22 megawatts (MW), was officially dedicated and commissioned on Thursday, December 15, 2016, at the project site in Harrisburg by the President of the Republic of Liberia, Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Other dignitaries attending the program were the Foreign Affairs Minister of Norway, the Commissioner for Africa of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs of the U.S. Government. When the project is completed, Mt. Coffee Hydropower Plant will have a total installed capacity of 88 MW (four generating units of 22 MW each).
Dedicatory Plaque at the Entrance of the Powerhouse
With the completion of the first unit (which is now going through various testing stages) the project is now over 80% completed with the target for overall project completion set for August 2017. This means that by this time next year, all four turbines will be installed and connected by high-voltage transmission lines to both the LEC Bushrod Substation and Paynesville Substation. The December 15, 2016 milestone is hailed as an achievement because it signifies that all the major systems of the hydropower plant, dam, spillway, substation, and one transmission line have been completed, enabling the turning on of power for the first time in so many years.
The challenge the Liberia Electricity Corporation has set for itself over the next eight months is to increase distribution lines and customer connections in Monrovia and its environs so that the Mt. Coffee plant’s full potential can be realized. Currently, the peak power demanded by LEC’s existing customer base is just 18 MW, which is less than the potential of one generating unit of the Mt. Coffee plant. LEC is planning to connect not only additional residential customers throughout Monrovia but also large commercial and industrial users to rapidly increase the demand.
The transmission line that has been built between the Mt. Coffee plant and the Bushrod Substation, and the transmission line that is currently under construction between Mt. Coffee and the Paynesville Substation, each have a rated voltage of 66 kilovolts, which is the same as LEC`s other high-voltage transmission lines that form a ring around Monrovia. While some residents have reportedly expressed fear that living under the lines presents a danger, LEC has assured its customers that the lines have been designed in line with international standards for public health and safety and that as long as residents respect the established minimum safety clearances between the highest point of buildings and the lowest point of the lines (7 meters or approximately 21 feet), there is no danger posed by living inside the corridor of the lines. The Mt. Coffee Project Implementation Unit of LEC has gone to great lengths to inform the public living underneath the Mt. Coffee transmission lines of the safety clearances and to compensate all persons affected by the construction for any impacts on their existing land or properties.
Rehabilitation of the Mt. Coffee Hydropower Plant was proposed as an important part of the national reconstruction efforts led by H.E. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2011. According to statistics, only about 7% of Liberians have access to electricity today, and the price of electricity is still among the highest in the world due, until recently, to LEC`s total reliance on high-speed modular diesel generation. LEC has made remarkable strides in increasing its generation capacity during 2016, including installation of an additional capacity of 38 MW of heavy fuel oil generation (LEC`s first 10 MW of HFO generation was commissioned in late 2015 by President Sirleaf). Now that LEC has begun operating its thermal plants on heavy fuel oil, and now that the first turbine at Mt. Coffee is sending hydro-powered current into the LEC system, LEC`s generating costs are expected to be reduced. It is anticipated that LEC will be able to announce a reduced tariff in the new year due to these improvements in LEC`s generating sources.
The Mt. Coffee Project reached its most important milestone in record time. While planning and procurement for the project began in 2012, the construction started in early 2014 and was interrupted by the Ebola crisis, which caused the project to lose an entire dry season which was critical for reconstruction of the dam. Construction resumed in April 2015. It is important to note, however, that the bulk of the project construction has been completed in less than two years’ time.
The budget for the Mt. Coffee project is just under a U.S. Dollar equivalent of $357 million, which includes the main construction contracts for the generating equipment, hydraulic steelworks, dam and civil works, road works, substations at Mt. Coffee and in Monrovia, 50 kilometers of high-voltage transmission lines, the workers’ camp, and engineering and construction supervision; environmental and social safeguards activities; and multi-year training of Liberians both in country and overseas for the operation and maintenance of the Mt. Coffee Hydropower Plant. The budget also includes contingencies in case of unforeseen circumstances and foreign exchange losses. Community benefits of the project include reconstruction of the health clinic in Harrisburg, which will kick off in 2017; provision of wells and hand pumps for 14 communities, and livelihood training activities. Financing for the project consists of 82% grant funds and 18% soft loan funds. It is anticipated that the final cost of the project, which will not be known until late 2017, will be less than budgeted.
The Mt. Coffee Project continues to achieve important milestones on a daily basis as the hydropower systems are tested and commissioned on the LEC grid. LEC customers are currently receiving electricity that is generated from the power of the St. Paul River and in the forthcoming months it is anticipated that all of LEC’s power requirements will be met by Mt. Coffee. This represents an historic achievement for the nation indeed.