The site that is hosting the Mount Coffee Power Plant in Harrisburg

 By Mark Neywon Mengonfia- [email protected]

The fourteen years of civil unrest caused setbacks to the growth and development of Liberia, the first Independent West African Nation.

The war did not just take away lives but broke down the system and major infrastructures, a condition that has pushed the country backward for many years with its impact still being felt today.

Among those broken infrastructures that are still struggling to their pre-war status is the Mount Coffee power plant which was an efficient and stable source of electricity before the war.

The Mount Coffee power plant started originally to operate in 1966 until it was severely damaged by what many have termed as ‘senseless civil war’ (1989-2003).

Back On

During ex-President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration, she embarked on an effort to have the power supply restored and renewed with a favourable 

slogan- “Small lights today, and big lights tomorrow.”

December 15, 2016, former President Sirleaf launched the first phase of the rehabilitation of the power plant project.

The level of investment done at the hydro was put at US$230,000,000.

Before its destruction, the plant had a capacity of 64 MW with four turbines, but the rehabilitated Mount Coffee plant according to the former Liberian 

President and the expects, now has the capacity of 88 megawatts (MW), a capacity big enough to supply Monrovia and its surroundings.

When the project was dedicated just before she exited, many Liberians including business owners were full of excitement that their problems of using generators which they said was expensive were all over.

Their joys were that a stable electricity supply will be a major boost to the country’s economy.

What’s Wrong?

It is less than six years since the George Weah administration surfaced and the delight of having a stable electricity supply is gradually swaying away because what they expected is far from reality.

Many people have expressed their frustration on radios, live podcasts, and various social media platforms on the power outages.

They have complained that the situation of the power outage is causing difficulties in their living condition; their businesses are not getting the needed profits.

Some citizens have resulted to using generators or purchased solar power to keep their homes lighted up.

Social Media Call

Liberian journalist Johnathan Paye-Layleh  BBC correspondent to Liberia wrote on his official Facebook page saying, “It’s very serious now. This is no joke. I’m here to repair the old power generator that I thought was no longer needed. So, we’re back to generator days?”

Not only journalist Paye-Layleh, but others have also expressed their pain in different ways.

Conscience N. Tequah, a resident of the GSA road community is one person who is worried about the power outage in Liberia.

In an interview she said, Electricity is very important to any nation because it serves as a support to security.

“I strongly feel LEC should be privatized,” she said.

The young Liberian indicated that the government of Liberia should work closely with the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) to find a solution to the problem.

Darwin U. Bedell, Financial Manager at Youth Network for Positive Change, told The Stage Media that the constant outage of power is causing them serious problems.

“The issue we are discussing is so scaring economically and it hinders productivities at workplaces,” he said.

According to him due to power outages, they have to reduce their regular working hours and sometimes have to go out to hotels and other places to access power to ensure that their work is done.

Because of a constant power outage, they have introduced a system that allows them to operate the generator for six hours (10 am-3 pm).

Bedell said, “There will be no serious company that will want to invest into the production sector because when they calculate what it will cost them to power a generator along with profit monthly, they will shut down and exit the country.”

People on Site

A visit at the Mount Coffee power plant reviews that even those living in Harrisburg, the seat of the plant is likewise complaining because they, too, are facing the same outage dilemma.

David Romeo and his brothers operate a video club in Harrisburg. Although they live and operate not far from the hydro, they use generators to run their business.

The younger brother of Romeo has just gone for overhauling of the brothers’ generator when this reporter came in contact with him.

“The people are not telling us the right story. They have not told us what has gone wrong. Some people will say no water in the hydro, other people say the current that should be supplied to various communities is low that is the reason why they are assigning schedules to various communities,” Romeo said.

Romeo furthered, “Sometimes, for a whole week or a month we do not get current here and the day it comes, it is off and on.”

He questioned,” How can we be at the hydro and suffer for electricity?”

Ma- Hawa Quay is one person who was born in Harrisburg, lives and is partly schooled there.

She operates a business named; “Project” where she sells drinks and food.

According to her, her customers have always complained that the drinks are always hot and because of that, the speed at which they buy from her has dropped.

“Most people tell us that the best cold drinks should be coming from us, but it is something different,” she said.

 What did LEC Authorities say?

The constant outage caught the attention of the Liberian Senate and they invited for hearing the Chief Executive officer of Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), Paschal Buckley, and the Chairperson, Board of Commissioners of the Liberia Electricity Regulatory Commission, Dr. Lawrence D. Sikajipo.

During the hearing, Wednesday, February 16, 2022, CEO Buckley admitted that the constant cutting off of power is because one of the four turbines at the hydro has been damaged and the water level has gone low thus causing a power outage.

He also proposed to the Liberian Senate that the plant needs to be dragged and by that, it will have the capacity to serve even during the dry and rainy seasons.

Lawrence D. Sikajipo, Chairperson of the Board of Commissioners (BoC) of the Liberia Electricity Regulatory Commission (LERC) informed the Committee that the only way for LEC to make money and regulate the sector properly is to privatize the sector.

Sikajipo said once the sector is privatized, those at the LEC will have more time to properly perform their works that will ensure that power is distributed to Liberians.

Monie Captan, LEC Board Chairperson said that Liberians have a say when it comes to the distribution of electricity on grounds that they are the major shareholders.

He indicated that there is a breakdown in accountability because most, if not all of the law-creating public entities require the president to work along with the board and the managing directors of the institution.

He said the public corporations should be held accountable for efficiency and at the same time, called on Liberians to hold those corporations accountable for their performances.

He stressed the need for board members to be effective in the discharge of their duties, noting that most of the appointments are done squarely by the president and that the board of directors does not have a saying in the hiring and firing of those people who make it difficult to hold their feet to the fire.

January 24, 2022, President George M. Weah in the State of the Nation Address said his government is making firm progress in the electricity sector.

He told the Liberian Legislature that since 2018, the total households connected to the electricity grid have increased by more than 260 percent, from more than 49,000 customers in 2018 to about 130,000 customers by December of 2021 but failed to speak about the outage.

“I am proud to report that the cost of electricity, a major challenge for businesses and households, has been reduced from 35 cents per kilowatt-hour to around 24 cents per kilowatt-hour for residential customers and 22 cents per kilowatt-hour for businesses,” he said.

Although the president has made such a nice report, Liberians are yet to start benefiting from a hydro plant which amounts to over US$230,000,000.

Liberia has six major rivers which if managed will increase the capacity to host hydro and construction of new supply for electricity that will further supply towns and villages of Liberia.

Currently, one of the rivers, the St. Paul River 27 kilometres northeast of Monrovia is hosting the 88 megawatts (MW) power plant.

However, citizens recommend that to have stable and efficient electricity; other rivers need to be used like the St. Paul River.

This story is done with  funding from the Centre for Journalism Innovation & Development [CJID] collaboration.


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