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26.01.2015 Opinion

The Shiny Toy Syndrome And Ghana’s Energy Crisis

By Jason Tutu
The Shiny Toy Syndrome And Ghana’s Energy Crisis
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The other day I read with mirth the government's attempt to quickly deploy two emergency powerships or barges (I'm not sure exactly which) to stem the ensuing power crisis. Naturally, it should come as a matter of great relief that the authorities seek to take such a bold step in the face of current debilitating effects of power rationing on our economy. But precedence makes the gesture far less than intriguing, if not patronizing – at least to those of us who have been following previous attempts to fire fight the nation's perennial power crunch.

Apparently, it has become clear that our governments have only sought to throw structures and fancy gadgets at the power problem. Sadly, these have not been able to bring the matter under control. One may well recall an attempt to resolve a similar power crisis under the erstwhile J.A Kufuor administration. The then Minister of Energy, Mr. Joseph Kofi Adda, ordered to be procured a number of containerized generators; with a generating capacity of 126MW. As though there was no stakeholder consultation at the very top; the former CEO of the Volta River Authority (VRA), Dr. Charles WerekoBrobbey, came out to describe the generators as 'toy machines.' That signaled the end of the matter. The hard earned Ghanaian tax payers' cash was splashed on emergency energy generators which were essentially never utilized.

The second experience rather cuts straight to the heart of the matter. Riding on the tides of the feverish current that gripped our nation in the wake of oil and gas discoveries; the government caused to be built a 125 MW barge-mounted gas turbine electric power generating station – The Osagyefo Barge. This is located at Effasu in the Western Region. Till date, not a single watt of electric power has been realized from this national white elephant. The only activity the barge has seen so far has had absolutely nothing to do with engineers and power generation. Rather, it has been a case of judgment debts and legal officers battling it out in the courtrooms of Ghana and elsewhere; while the entire monstrosity, for a very long time, continued to depreciate on the waters of Effasu.

A key lesson that must be learnt from the Osagyefo Barge disaster will serve quite well for the newly proposed powerships/barges. That initial intervention proved a fiasco due to the lack of feedstock (fuel) to feed the barge. Currently, the Ghana National Gas Company (GNGC) is still yet to produce gas to anticipated volumes. The West Africa Gas Pipeline (WAGP) also remains consistently unreliable. As such, apart from technical challenges being faced by a couple of our gas plants and low water levels at the hydroelectric sites; the crux of our power problem has mainly been the lack of a reliable source of feedstock to power the existing plants - barring ECG's inefficiencies.

Whilepowerships/barges may be easily fabricated within very short periods, the fact remains that they will still require gas or some other source of fuel in order to be able to generate power. So if the existing plants (including the forgotten 'toy machines' and the Osagyefo barge) lack enough fuel to operate consistently, why go on a 'new toy shopping spree' when the issue of feedstock unavailability still stare us in the face?

For my money, the government is better served focusing on finding faster and more sustainable ways of availing feedstock to the various Independent Power Producers (IPPs) as well as the VRA; instead of venturing into what will eventually become another case of unmitigated financial loss to the state.

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