Construction of the Mt. Coffee hydropower plant was first undertaken in 1964. The first phase, with an installed capacity of 34 megawatts (MW) from two turbines, was commissioned and put in production in 1967. The project was undertaken by the Government of Liberia (GOL), with financing from the United States Government. Stanley Consultants served as project managers.
The installation of two additional turbines in 1973 increased the installed capacity to 64 MW. This second phase was financed by the World Bank; Motor Columbus served as project managers. Plans to more than double the generation capacity of the Mt. Coffee HPP through construction of the Via reservoir dam and installation of two new turbines were abandoned due to the Civil War. Rebel forces under the command of Charles Taylor seized the Mt. Coffee HPP in July of 1990, halting production and causing the dam to breach. The facilities were looted and destroyed during and in the years following the conflict.
Following the restoration of peace, rehabilitation of Mt. Coffee was proposed as an important part of the reconstruction efforts led by H.E. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. In 2012 about seven percent of Liberians had access to electricity, and electricity prices were among the highest in the world due to reliance on high-speed modular diesel generation. This situation impeded economic development, and therefore the Government of Liberia fully committed itself to the Mt. Coffee Rehabilitation Project. Rehabilitation of the Mt. Coffee hydro plant was identified as the best option for low-cost and sustainable energy generation in the post-war years.
In 2011 the GOL requested financing for the project from the Government of Norway (GON), KFW Development Bank of Germany, and the European Investment Bank (EIB). The Financing Agreement between EIB and the GOL was signed on December 28, 2012, for a concessionary loan in the amount of €50 million. Two Cooperation Agreements were signed between GOL and GON on June 13 and July 4, 2013 in support of the Mt. Coffee Project Implementation Unit and the Hydropower Rehabilitation Project, respectively, for a total grant amount of NOK450 million. A Financing and Project Agreement was signed between KfW and the GOL on September 30, 2013, for a grant in the amount of €25 million. The Government of Liberia committed to providing $45 million and covering any cost overruns.
Over the first two years of project implementation it became evident that the project budget was significantly under-estimated, as evidenced by the market response to tenders; cost increases also occurred due to the Ebola crisis of 2014 – 2015, and design optimization decisions agreed by the stakeholders. The Ebola crisis hindered the Government of Liberia’s ability to provide the originally committed amount of $45 million. Therefore, additional financing was sought in 2015.
As a result, the Millennium Challenge Compact was signed between the U.S. Government (through MCC) and the GOL on October 2, 2015 for a grant towards the Mt. Coffee Project of $146.8 million including contingency, plus additional support for environmental/social activities. The Government of Liberia also requested additional financing of the Government of Norway and KfW. In response, an Addendum to the original Cooperation Agreement between the GON and GOL was signed on December 1, 2015, for a grant of NOK 92 million, and a Supplemental Financing Agreement was signed between KfW and GOL for €30 million on November 26, 2015.
The joint financing covered rehabilitation of the hydropower plant and reservoir, the construction of a 132/66 kilovolt (kV) substation at Mount Coffee, two 132/66 kV transmission lines between Mount Coffee and Monrovia, the expansion of the two receiving substations in Monrovia, and the introduction of a new emergency spillway that would prevent any future breach of the dam. The project did not include distribution of the hydropower-based electricity all the way to households; this remains the responsibility of LEC. Development of the 225 kV transmission line from the Mount Coffee substation to neighboring countries continues to be arranged through the West African Power Pool (WAPP), in a parallel process.
Responsibility for implementation of the Project was assigned to the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) by the Government of Liberia. The Project was implemented by a Project Implementation Unit (PIU) within LEC, acting on behalf of the Board of Directors of LEC. At the time of the PIU’s inception, the Liberia Electricity Corporation was being administered by Manitoba Hydro International Ltd. (MHI) under a Management Contract (MC). This MC was originally scheduled to run for five years from July 1, 2010 until June 30, 2015, and was funded by the Government of Norway. In January 2013 an Amendment to the Management Contract was signed between the GOL, LEC, and GON, which allowed for the financing of the PIU and the implementation of the Mt. Coffee Hydropower Rehabilitation Project. The Management Contract concluded in December 2016, and LEC is currently being administered by a Management Services Contract between the Government of Liberia and ESB International of Ireland.
The Government of Liberia and its partners agreed that rehabilitation of the Mt. Coffee Hydropower Plant should be fast-tracked as a publicly funded and owned project for low-cost reliable power generation to Monrovia; it was declared a “national emergency” by the GOL in 2012. The urgency was due to the scale of Liberia´s development challenges, and the fact that all of LEC´s generation capacity in 2012 was sourced from costly thermal power, which at one time resulted in an electricity tariff as high as $0.59/kWh.
The MCHPP Rehabilitation Project began in May 2012 with the establishment and development of the PIU at LEC. Construction began at the site in January 2014. Unfortunately, due to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia and its neighboring countries, which reached crisis level in August 2014, the on-site construction works had to be suspended for a period of eight (8) months. Though off-shore activities, including procurement and manufacturing (of generating equipment and auxiliary components) continued, the outbreak resulted in a one-year delay to the project’s schedule. Construction resumed in April 2015 and the achievement of first commercial power production from the plant was achieved in mid-December 2016. The scope of the original project was substantially completed by December 2017. The construction of the emergency spillway was completed in mid-2018 along with upgrades to the site roads and security infrastructure. The project will be concluded at the end of 2018.