Aug 03, 2021 Letters
Kaieteur News – ‘Ole dawg neva dies,’ was a favourite expression of a rancher I knew in Ebini. Like the proverbial ole dawg, the Amaila Falls Hydroelectric Project (AFHP) seems reluctant to die. Let me start by saying that anything that alleviates Guyana’s chronic electricity problems has to be commended. However, there are a number of questions around the AFHP that still need to be answered specifically, around the cost, location, scale, and the rationale.
As it relates to cost, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) highlights that the average investment costs for large hydropower plants typically range from as low as $1,050/kW to as high as $7,650/kW. At 900 million USD (2011 costs) for only 165MW, the AFHP comes in at around $5,500/kW – this is expensive by global standards. Thus, the question becomes is this the most cost-effective hydro site for Guyana? Some 40% of these costs are for transmission of power from the project site at Amaila to the load centres on the coast. In terms of the financials and location one has to ask why Amaila? The site is not connected to any major artery, nor any major development plan. The majority of the Region’s inhabitants lives along the Ireng and the Pakaraimas and therefore would not even benefit from the access roads. In essence, the AFHP would require huge investments in infrastructure leading literally nowhere and connected to nothing.
Added to this, the government estimates that even without a huge jump in industrial output, Guyana would need some 460MW of power by 2025. Why then invest close to 1 Billion USD in a project that adds so little in terms of power. One had hoped the PPP would be able to dream a bit bigger than the previous government. Why not invest in a site that would meet our needs not only now but also for moderate growth in consumption? Norconsult’s Report on the AFHP of December 2016 argued that the Potaro basin has potential for other hydro sites which could also utilise the transmission lines and other infrastructure developed for AFHP. The most likely candidate is Tumatumari, but at 50MW the site does not justify the investment. Additionally, the Norconsult Report explicitly stated that more studies were needed to understand the hydrology of the basin and to assess if there is indeed enough water for one, much less two hydro schemes.
While the Norconsult Report stated that AFHP was the best site at around 150MW- the question we now need to ask ourselves is ‘Would a larger site make sense?’ When one considers the rapid annual increase in electric consumption, the answer can only be yes. The gas-to-shore power project at 250MW, plus the Hope Beach Wind Farm (40MW) will give us some breathing room while we develop a more fit for purpose hydro project. A scheme at Turtruba, Oko Blue, Kamaria or Arisaru would be better investments. All are larger sites with lower transmission costs. Most have been studied to prefeasibility level and were only discounted by the Norconsult Report because at the time they were too large.
One worries that the only reason this ole dawg is being resurrected is because the PPP backed it in 2001 and APNU+AFC didn’t. Amaila might have made sense in 2011, but the question is, ‘does AFHP meet the needs of Guyana in 2021 and beyond?’ Or will this ole dawg come back to bite us all?
Dr. Kwesi Sansculotte-Greenidge
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