From a critical low of 236.73 feet last June, the water level of the Akosombo Hydroelectric Dam has risen to its current operating level of 256.40 feet, but the plant manager of the facility has warned of another energy crisis if prudent policies are not put in place.
Weeks after torrential rains hit the northern parts of the country, Mr Kwesi B. Amoako, the Plant Manager of the Hydro Generation Department of the Akosombo Generation Station, at the weekend declared the plant to be in good condition and operating efficiently.
He, however, stated that the erratic rainfall pattern in the catchment area posed the threat of another energy crisis in the near future.
Mr Amoako explained that as the rains were effectively over in the catchment area, the dam could only rely on what had accumulated now till the next rainy season, a prospect he described as uncomfortable.
He described all the six units of the dam, comprising a turbine, a generator and a transformer, as being in perfect condition and operating at an optimal level of efficiency, after some major rehabilitation works.
In the heat of the recent energy crisis, the station operated only two of the six generation units because of the low level of the water in the dam.
However, when the Daily Graphic visited the station last Friday, three of the units were running, and at 256.40 feet five of the units operated at peak hours.
Yet, despite the marked improvement in the water level of the dam, officials of the station are treading cautiously, conscious of the fact that no major rains are expected in the next nine months.
“We have told the government that we must produce between 3,200-3,600 Giga watt hours of electricity to ensure that the water level in the dam will be around the normal minimum operating level of 248 feet by the time of the major inflows in June next year,” Mr Amoako told the Daily Graphic.
He stated further that if the dam was run at higher levels to produce, for instance, 4,800 Giga watt hours of electricity, then the level of the dam would run dangerously low before the rainy season next year and that could result in another energy crisis in 2009 if the rain patterns were poor in 2008, as they were last year.
Mr Amoako explained that the dam operated under the principle of potential energy that was dependent on the water level, therefore the higher the water level, the more electricity that can be generated.
Before the energy crisis in August last year, hydro-electric generation met about 60 to 65 per cent of the country's energy needs, while 35 per cent came from the Aboadze Thermal Plant, with about five per cent coming from imports from Cote d'Ivoire.
But now the Volta River Authority (VRA) is advocating a change in the country's energy generation policy to guarantee the optimum operation of the Akosombo Generation Station and prevent a recurrence of the energy crisis.
Under the new proposal, hydro-electric energy will complement electricity supply from thermal plants and generators, which will be the main sources of supply.
Mr Amoako pointed out that hydro generation, although renewable, was highly variable, depending on the pattern of rainfall. It was, therefore, not always reliable, considering the country's growing energy demands.
This is at a time when the price of crude oil has skyrocketed to almost $100 per barrel and calls by some in the petroleum industry for an increased dependence on the dam for the country's energy needs to reduce the cost of running the thermal plants brought in by the government during the crisis.
Mr Amoako conceded that although increased dependence on thermal plants and generators could mean significant increases in tariffs, that seemed to be the best way out.
He also called for the adoption of prudent conservation methods to get the country through a lean season to the next rainy season.
Some fishermen are back fishing on the lake whose water level had hitherto been so low that the spew gates, from where excess water from the dam could be let out, were opened widely and no water flowed out as the level lay way beneath the gates then.
“What you now see in the dam is God-sent,” Mr Amoako said, with a beam on his face. “Did you visit the station during the crisis? He enquired.
On receiving a negative response, he said, “You would have appreciated the level of water in the dam now if you had.”
The rehabilitation works were carried out on the gates, to advantage of the low level of water in the dam, Mr Amoako added.
He said Ghanaians must now think seriously about paying real rates for the electricity they consumed, since managing the station and investing to keep all equipment in shape had not been done pro bono.
For him, it was unwise for Akosombo to produce electricity for people to pay rates that did not even cover the cost of production.
Story by Caroline Boateng & Daniel Nkrumah.