Liberian Energy Expert Christopher Neyor Advances Solution to LEC’s Challenges

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MONROVIA – Liberia’s top-notched energy specialist Christopher Neyor has advanced several recommendations for the resuscitation of the country’s declining energy sector, with a call on the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led-government of President George Manneh Weah to settle its indebtedness to Cote d’Ivoire to guarantee the resumption of the West Africa Power Pool (WAPP) TRANSCO power import.

Mr. Neyor previously served as the Managing Director of the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) and Senior Energy Advisor and President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL) during the administrations of former Liberian Presidents Samuel Kanyon Doe and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

He played a pivotal role in advising Madam Sirleaf and the former Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy on post war power restoration, spearheaded writing of the current Liberia National Energy Policy (LNEP) and initiated the conceptual framework for full development of the nearly 1000 MW capacity of the St Paul River basin.

Mr. Neyor is currently the President/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Morweh Energy in Liberia. The group is engaged into both local and international consultancies on the energy sector.

Since the commencement of the dry season in Liberia, citizens and other foreign nationals have been catching hell as a result of either no or consistent power outage due to the shedding of power being implemented by the LEC.

But in a statement issued from the United States over the week end, Mr. Neyor observed that Liberia and its citizens as well as foreign residents have been plunged into protracted electricity outages that have caused severe loss of productivity, spoilage of refrigerated food in homes and businesses by those who cannot afford private generators or the fuel to run them.

He observed that national leaders have not muster the courage to take decisions towards finding lasting solutions to the current situation.

Change LEC management

He named the changing of the management team at the LEC to bring in a competent team that could be given Term of Reference (TOR) to resolve the power outage problem within a given period of time as one of the quickest ways to help confront the current power outage in Liberia.

Mr. Neyor emphasized that the new team of LEC heads should be given the “tools and independence they need” and they should also be paid well.

He pointed out that recommending the payment of debt Liberia owes Ivory Coast “solution option is a “bitter one” for him because, “had we been visionary from 2007 or 2010, we could have had the St Paul River Authority constructed and operational and we would have been the country exporting power today”.

He said government should demonstrate commitment to set an example in paying its electric bills regularly and timely.

Mr. Neyor called for the containment of high commercial losses utilizing power theft control technologies through the building of a trained, efficient and honest workforce and law enforcement.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different result. Our solution to the darkness and losses electricity shortage is causing in Liberia lies in the honest desire and courage of our leaders and all of us to want to pursue the solution that we already know. This could be said of all our sectorial problems including health, education and agriculture”.

Long Term solution

Mr. Neyor pointed out that Liberia’s long-term solution to power outages and energy security is declaring the St Paul River Basin development a National Priority Project and putting in place the strategy and mobilizing the resources to get it done.

He recalled that in 1960s the Volta River hydropower project in Ghana faced many huddles and it seemed its construction would not happen until President Kwame Nkrumah, who had the vision of what electric power meant to Ghana’s economic and human development, stepped forward and declared, “Akosombo shall be built.”

“And the Akosombo was indeed built through the Volta River Authority (VRA), which laid the foundation for Ghana’s leap forward when Jerry Rawlings came in. Can we have a leader in Liberia with the same vision as Kwame Nkrumah step forward and say to the nation, “The St Paul River Project shall be built”?

He observed that many Liberians and other foreign residents are feeling the general discomfort in the middle of the dry season heat without air conditioners or fans as a result of the current consistent power outages. 

Mr. Neyor emphasized that the growing frustration from the “incessant power outages has prompted angry commentaries verbal and written from a cross segment of the Liberian population”.

“Liberia’s power problem has its origin in the 60s when lacking vision, the error that has haunted us for decades was made to grant individual power generation rights to all the incoming mining concessions (LAMCO, BMC, LNOIC, LMC) and then built the Mt Coffee hydropower station as a run of river facility on the St Paul River. Run of River means, the hydro plant has no storage dam (reservoir) to regulate the water flow but the plant runs only on the natural flow of the river. Run of river plants work on smaller hydro or in areas where the river flow is constant year-round but, unfortunately in Liberia, our rivers run low or dry up in the dry season such that operation of the hydro plant is not possible”.

St. Paul’s potential

Mr. Neyor disclosed that the St. Paul River, which host the hydro, has potential of 800 to 1000 MW and its optimum development would require building of a dam to hold the excess water during the rainy season and gradually release (regulate) it during the dry season when the river flow is low”.

He added that a feasibility completed decades ago recommends the construction of a dam in the Lofa highlands at the confluence of the St Paul river with the Via River and build cascaded plants of different capacities from 80 to 214 MW at the dam site and downstream.

He noted that the current Mt. Coffee Hydropower Plant was to be the last downstream of those cascaded plants in the St Paul River Basin.

Mr. Neyor said the potential of the St Paul River is more than adequate to supply electricity to the entire country utilizing high voltage transmission lines to population centers, industrial and agricultural processing zones, noting that, “there is the option to supply all of northern, western and central Liberia from the St Paul River and the southeastern counties could be fed from a smaller Cavalla River hydro project”.

“However, building a dam to store water on the St Paul is very expensive. How is it going to be paid for? That’s where the shortsightedness of our policymakers and planners fell short. You see, an investment in anything must show how money put into that project is going to be repaid. For example, in power, if you want to borrow money to build a plant, you have to show the bank (or consortium of banks) or deep pocket investors how they will get their money back (of course with a return) by showing the cost of project, who the operators will be and who are the end users of the product or service with proven ability to pay”.

Economic planners

He observed that planners of Liberia’s economy “unfortunately didn’t see or wasn’t courageous to use the mining concessions they were negotiating with as power off-takers to enable the government secure financing for development of the St Paul River basin for generation of electricity for the mines and other consumers”.

“Instead of taking advantage of this naturally presented golden opportunity, they elected to allow the then incoming mines to build individual generation plants run with imported fossil fuel. The development of the mines, from the effective date of concessions to beginning of actual mining for a green (new) mine takes up to 5 years which could have been done in parallel with development of the first phase of the St Paul River dam and initial generating stations in time to supply power to the mines as they became operational. In other words, the government in knowing what it wanted in the best interest of the country and the people could have killed two birds with one stone. Regrettably, that did not happen”. 

Repeated Error

Quoting Albert Einstein, Mr. Neyor reminded leaders in Liberia that a problem cannot be solved with the same mindset that created it.

He recalled that he served and helped to resuscitate the energy sector of Liberia while serving as an Energy Advisor to Madam Sirleaf at the time all energy infrastructures, including the Mt. Coffee hydropower station, the thermal plants at Bushrod and the entire transmission and distribution network were destroyed.

He added that he and his team managed to devise a 3-prong strategy to not only restore power but also to ensure an accessible, reliable, affordable and sustainable solution to the power outages of the past.

“The “Small Light Today and Big Light Tomorrow” slogan was meant to take us from the EPP (Emergency Power Phase) to the IPP (Independent power Phase) to the HPP (Hydropower Phase) that included not only rehabilitating Mt. Coffee but fully developing the St. Paul River Basin with the building of a water storage dam, the “Big Light.”

“As we proceeded with these undertakings, the opportunity came again to pursue full development of the St. Paul River as negotiations were underway to restart old mines and begin new ones. There were Arcelor Mittal for the old LAMCO, China Union for the old Bong Mines and the Western Cluster of old and new mines in western Liberia. We also had the opportunity of the then planned West Africa Power Pool (WAPP) transmission project to interconnect Liberia’s electric network with the other Ecowas countries. These provided two golden opportunities to finance the St Paul River project because we had; 1) the incoming mines as off-takers we could sign pre-construction PPA with; and 2) the WAPP transmission network (CLSG) could provide an evacuation channel for export of the excess power to other ECOWAS countries”.

He continued: “Our National Energy Plan captured this opportunity for the St. Paul River development and I made a presentation to the Cabinet proposing the framework for execution of this vital national project through an SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle called the SPRA (St Paul River Authority). I proposed that the President declare development of the St Paul River hydropower potential as a National Priority Project and set up a Task Force made up of public and private sector members to get the project off the ground”.

He maintained that a Task Force was set up and after his presentation made to President Lula during a State visit of Madam Sirleaf to Brazil, the Brazilian leader was excited and expressed desire to help Liberia build its hydropower project.

“Following the visit, the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht was sent to join us as a private sector partner but, unfortunately, the entire St. Paul River came to a halt after my advisory role ended and what we ended with was the same problem we were trying to solve -Mt. Coffee was rehabilitated to be run of river again with full power production in the rain season but near zero generation during the dry season”.

Consequences of the Error

Mr. Neyor noted that as a result of the numerous errors made by the economic planners and leaders who blindly granted mining concessions exclusive right to produce their own power, there exist no other high power-consuming bankable anchor attractive to financiers to develop the St Paul basin because, without such, residential and commercial consumption of a small population like ours could not justify the high investment in the dam construction.

He pointed out that a lower cost version of the St Paul River Basin was built as run of river with 64 MW-capacity.

He added that realizing that the 64 MW will generally not be available during the dry season; a corresponding 64 MW gas turbine plant was built at Bushrod Island.

Mr. Neyor recalled that the price of gas oil was cheap in the 60s and early 70s when the gas turbine plants were erected, but when the Arabs sharply increased the cost of fuel in the 70s the gas turbines operation during the dry season became a challenge and there were periodic load shedding during the dry season.

“When the cost of running the gas turbines became unbearable, an HFO  (heavy fuel oil) plant was added at Bushrod for a more affordable operation. However high maintenance and operating costs of these thermal generators resulted to periodic blackouts during the dry season though not anywhere near what it is today. This is where we were, when I became Managing Director and began to redirect government focus to development of the St Paul River Basin as the permanent solution to our chronic power situation until our civil war began”.

Advice to President George Weah

Mr. Neyor pointed out that following the inauguration of President Weah in 2018, he reached out, extended a congratulatory message and offered his advice on critical national issues including electricity even though he supported Joseph Boakai during the election in 2017.

He noted that his decision taken was intended to lend his expertise to help the new government that needed help, putting politics aside as a patriotic citizen.

“President Weah has a connection with LEC. When I served as Managing Director and King George was in his early glory in Europe and right after he won his first African Footballer of the Year Award, I contracted him to be spokesperson for LEC to help create awareness of the new direction LEC was going. He was featured in radio and television ads and on billboards at strategic points around country, which were highly effective until the civil conflict. I also wrote the Energy Platform for the new CDC political party in 2005 and believed that President Weah was familiar with the issues of electricity and would give the “reminders” outlined in my letters due attention but his government, unfortunately, seems to be going down the path of our past leaders, lacking the vision and courage to do great things for the country. Let the letters speak for themselves”.

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