The Volta River Authority (VRA), in consultation with the government, has decided to reduce the units which the Akosombo Dam operates to generate power from three to two to save the dam from total collapse.
The Chief Executive Officer of the VRA, Mr Joshua Ofedie, told journalists in Accra yesterday that the move had been necessitated by the fact that the country risked a "total shut down" of its major electric producing plant, the Akosombo Hydro-Electric Dam, by the end of April if power was distributed at the current operational level.
At a press conference organised jointly by the VRA and the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), Mr Ofedie described the situation as serious and saidto avoid a total shutdown of the dam, a new load management programme, announced by the two companies on Saturday, would begin today.
The new schedule reduces the amount of time which customer groups can enjoy electricity from a 12-hour period of blackout once in five days to a 12-hour period of blackout once during the night and another 12-hour blackout period once during the day every four days.
Mr Ofedie said the immediate concern of the VRA and the ECG was to ensure that "the little water we have is stretched through to the end of June when we expect the major rainy season in the Volta reservoir's catchment area to commence".
Presently, the dam is working continuously on three, and sometimes four, of its six units, which are all in operational condition and was able to generate just enough to support the previous load-shedding management programme of a 12-hour blackout period in five days.
While stressing the need for the new regime, which he said was also for "system stability and frequency control purposes", he assured Ghanaians that the situation would be reviewed every two weeks.
On the level of water in the dam, Mr Ofedie said the initial load management programme began in August last year as a result of the "delayed and below average inflows into the Volta reservoir" and had the objective of avoiding a drafting of the reservoir to a level that could lead to its total shutdown before the rains in 2006.
That was able to improve the situation, he said, adding that as of the end of the rainy season in November 2006, the level in the reservoir peaked at 246 feet, 30 feet below the maximum operating level of 276 feet and only six feet above the minimum level of 240 feet.
He said because of poor rains and subsequent low levels of water in the Volta reservoir, the generation of hydro power available for the year had been severely limited.
He put the deficit of energy demand at 3,541 gigawatts per hour (GWh) for the year, explaining, "In fact, the total demand on the system in 2007 is about 10,152 GWh and the total available hydrogenation is only 3,370 GWh.
An additional 3,241 could be generated from the Takoradi Thermal Plant located at the Aboadze thermal complex."
In an overview of the results of interventions so far, Mr Ofedie announced that the expected supply from Cote d'Ivoire of 200 MW of power could not be met, as an Ivorian delegation came to Accra in March to inform the Minister of Energy and the VRA of "technical difficulties" which made that country unable to supply to Ghana.
The technical difficulties included critical maintenance work on thermal plants, the low levels of Cote d'Ivoire's hydro plants which had reduced supply to support its system and the decreased availability of natural gas which had reduced further its thermal production output.
On short-term measures to correct the crisis, Mr Ofedie said there was the need for the country to build up an "adequate thermal complementation" of its hydro-electric plant which currently supplied 60 per cent of the country's electric power needs.
To that end, he repeated the government's initiatives in the acquisition of thermal plants, efforts by mining companies to develop an 80-MW thermal plant in Tema with the VRA and the building of a 126-MW crude oil-fired thermal plant, also in Tema, to be completed by the end of August 2007.
Mr Ofedie bemoaned the poor state of the country's transmission and distribution systems which sometimes resulted in outages and blackouts in various communities which re-enforced consumers' resistance to pay more or pay anything at all for services and also for the payment of realistic tariffs.
He said an injection of capital to improve the energy transmission and distribution networks of the country was in progress and at various stages to correct that situation.
That included the Volta-Aboadze 330 kV line and the Kumasi/Sunyani 161 kV line and the development of a new 330 kV line to connect Volta (Tema) to Momehagou in Togo under the auspices of the West African Power Pool.
In the medium term, he said that a solicitation process by the VRA for the procurement of a 300-MW combined plant in Tema had begun. There was also the operationalisation of the 125-MW gas-fired Osagyefo Power Barge and the development of the 400-MW Bui Dam with assistance from the Chinese government.
On energy conservation, Mr Ofedie was not happy with consumers, saying, "Regrettably, there has been very little show of support from consumers with the efficient use of energy."
He advised Ghanaians to wisely use energy and industrial concerns to install appropriate energy saving and efficient use devices to save energy.
He announced a programme to launch a reduction in energy demand by industries through the installation of motor energy control devices for their industrial machinery and equipment.
The Managing Director of the ECG, Mr Jude Adu-Amankwah, also addressed the conference and said that the ECG had been saddled with obsolete equipment and transmission systems but added that the government was helping to revamp its supply system.
Story by Caroline Boateng