Liberia Pushes Forward With Power Projects

Construct Africa   2024-05-10 07:33:02

Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) is pressing forward with a series of projects as it looks put the country’s power sector on a stronger footing.

The state-owned utility intends to award the contract for a 20MW solar project during the second quarter and by the end of the year it expects to have completed the tender documentation for the expansion of the Mount Coffee hydropower plant and the feasibility study for a new 150MW hydro scheme. In the meantime, consultants have been invited to express interest by 21 May in developing a long-term integrated masterplan for Liberia’s power sector.

The aim of the masterplan study is to ensure the integrated planning of infrastructure investments based on demand forecasts to facilitate energy access and security, affordability and sustainability.

The consultant will be required to produce a national level plan for the expansion of generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure in the short, medium and long term, while also supporting regional electricity market integration and power trading.

Limited access

Just 28% of Liberia’s 5 million population currently has access to electricity. The country’s infrastructure was torn apart by 14 years of civil war between 1989 and 2003, including the complete destruction of power stations and transmission and distribution infrastructure. Grid connected electricity generation was not restored until 2015.

LEC is the dominant power sector operator in Liberia, mandated to engage in the development, generation, transmission, distribution and import and export of electricity.

It has an installed generation capacity of about 136MW, comprising the 88MW Mount Coffee hydropower plant on the St Paul River and the 38MW Bushrod thermal complex.

LEC's main grid primarily covers the capital Monrovia and rural areas on the outskirts of the city. It has about 375km of 66kV network interconnecting 12 substations across its service area, along with 608km of 22kV lines for primary distribution in urban areas and 217km of 33kV lines in rural areas. LEC also owns 33kV crossborder networks to receive imports from Cote d’Ivoire.

LEC’s grid is also connected to the West Africa Power Pool through a 225kV transmission network which traverses Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea (CLSG). The CLSG network is managed by TRANSCO, a supranational company and was energised at the end of 2022.

Planning for the future

The World Bank is funding the development of the integrated power system masterplan. It will comprise a 20-year (2025-45) least-cost, low-carbon generation and transmission plan based on a range of demand forecast scenarios; a 10-year distribution network expansion plan, integrating technologies such as net metering; and a 5-year network management and maintenance plan.

The masterplan will also evaluate prospects for integrating renewable generation options such as solar, wind, small hydro, biomass and offshore renewables into the energy mix, as well as the opportunity for further electricity imports.

The consultant will be expected to review the implementation of existing masterplans, namely the 2013 Least Cost Power Development Plan and the 2016 Rural Energy Strategy and Masterplan against their objectives.

Peak demand on LEC’s network is about 77MW but there is substantial latent demand in Monrovia and elsewhere in the country. This latent demand stems from manufacturing plants and commercial facilities that are not connected to the grid, as well as from mining companies, agricultural concessions and unserved households.

Due to the high cost of heavy fuel oil, LEC limits the use of its thermal plants at Bushrod. As a run-of-river facility with a 22.9-metre-high dam, the Mount Coffee plant can also only generate at full capacity for about half the year. It operates with a reduced capacity of between 8MW and 88MW during the other months, which means load shedding is frequently implemented in Liberia. LEC has booked 50MW of imports for 2024.

Generation projects

There are currently three projects to increase power generation capacity in Liberia: the expansion of the Mount Coffee hydropower plant; the development of a 20MW solar farm; and the construction of a 150MW second St Paul River hydro project.

In May 2023, LEC conducted a market sounding exercise for the expansion of the Mount Coffee plant to 132MW through the addition of two new turbines and generator units. It invited hydropower contractors, suppliers and engineering firms to express interest in a variety of delivery options, including design and build, turnkey and splitting the project into multiple packages. The scope comprises about 80% electromechanical works and 20% civil and earth works.

The expansion is being funded through the World Bank’s US$311 million Regional Emergency Solar Power Intervention Project (RESPITE), along with the planned 20MW solar plant, which will also be located at the Mount Coffee site.

RESPITE aims to increase grid-connected renewable energy capacity in Chad, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Togo. It has been designed to help the West African nations overcome a lack of private sector interest in developing renewables projects by combining efforts to bring scale to projects and carrying out regional procurement through a centralised process.

The first RESPITE tender was issued in August 2023, inviting companies to bid to design, supply, install and commission solar parks with battery energy storage systems in Chad, Liberia and Sierra Leone to be completed within 12-16 months. The deadline for submissions was 5 October.

The RESPITE Coordination Unit received 23 bids in total including 10 bids to develop 20MW of solar photovoltaic capacity at the Mount Coffee site in Liberia.

According to LEC, as of April, the procurement process for the solar plant was 50% complete, and a contract award is expected to be made in the second quarter, while the bid documents for the expansion of the Mount Coffee hydro plant are due to be completed this year. The World Bank has provided US$96 million in financing for the expansion and the construction of Liberia’s first utility-scale solar plant.

RESPITE will also fund the establishment of an authority responsible for the management of river watersheds in Liberia and the development of the new 150MW hydropower project on the St Paul River in Lower Bong County, known as SP2. The feasibility study for SP2 is due to be completed by the fourth quarter of this year.

SP2 will form part of a cascade of hydropower dams planned along the St Paul River, which will be serviced by a storage reservoir at the confluence of the Via and St Paul Rivers. The project is estimated to cost about US$500 million and the World Bank has already pledged US$300 million. Last year, plans to conduct a feasibility study for the Via Reservoir storage and generation project were given the go ahead.

Metered consumption

As well as building new generation capacity, LEC is investing in demand-side management with the aim of reducing its commercial losses from 31.4% to 22.2%. It has signed a framework meter supply contract with two manufacturers for the delivery of 300,000 units over three years. According to LEC, the majority of illegal connections to its network are direct taps. Since November 2022, more than 50,000 unauthorised and illegal connections have been identified and corrected.

In addition to curbing commercial losses, LEC’s targets for 2024 are to increase its revenues from US$54.6 million to US$82.8 million, reduce financial losses from US$12.9 million to US$12.5 million, and to boost customer connections from 282,505 to 366,669.

LEC is working on several initiatives to expand electricity access to unserved communities and households, but it notes that as the number of connections expands and demand grows, investment will also be needed to upgrade transmission lines, substations and transformers in future.

The electricity law of Liberia was amended in 2015 to enable private sector participation in the sector and establish the Liberia Electricity Regulatory Commission.