YANDOHUN, April 15, 2014 – For the first time in more than a generation, homes and businesses in Yandohun, Liberia now have electricity.
The town of about 2,000 has been off the grid since the Yandohun Micro-Hydro Power Plant was destroyed during the country’s civil war. Since its rehabilitation last year by the World Bank-supported Rural and Renewable Energy Agency (RREA) and subsequent commissioning in February 2014, 169 homes have been connected and plans are in place to connect additional homes.
“This is our flagship project - a real milestone,” said Augustus Goanue, executive director of the RREA. “It demonstrates our emphasis on extending the benefits of electrification beyond the capital and therefore distributing the benefits of development more evenly.”
The revival of the Yandohun plant represents an important first step in bringing electricity to Liberians who currently don’t have access. Even before the outbreak of civil war in 1989, Liberia struggled to meet rising energy demand. By the time the conflict ended in 2003, warring factions had gutted the country’s power plants and transmission lines, leaving less than 2% of the population - mostly residents of the capital, Monrovia - with access to publicly-provided electricity, requiring the rebuilding of energy infrastructure from scratch.
Inguna Dobraja, World Bank country manager for Liberia, said the Bank is committed to supporting the government’s efforts to increase access to electricity throughout the country.
“We strongly believe that striking a balance for electricity service provision between rural and urban areas is critical to ensuring inclusiveness for a more equal and just society that the Liberian government is striving to achieve,” she said.
The World Bank’s Africa Renewable Energy and Access Program (AFREA) initiated the program to help establish the RREA. The initial program, supported by the Energy Sector Management Assessment Program (ESMAP), focused on developing legislation, recruiting and training staff, and renovating a building in downtown Monrovia that now serves as the RREA’s headquarters.
A key area of Bank support for the RREA has been capacity building. After the 14-year conflict, government buildings were destroyed, official records ransacked and qualified personnel had left the country, leaving Liberia with little institutional capacity with which to undertake the arduous reconstruction process.
Ms. Jenny Hasselsten, an energy specialist with AFREA, said the capacity building process included intense on-the-job training.
“It was learning by doing with a focus on strengthening local capacities,” she said. “Instead of sending people on courses, we created a system in which new RREA staff members were involved in every step of a project’s implementation process.”
The process began in May 2009, with a series of assessment studies which determined that rehabilitating the long-abandoned hydro-plant in Yandohun would provide numerous opportunities for the town, including doubling the plant’s capacity , and providing electricity that would enable enterprises to thrive and create jobs. In addition, interviews with home and business owners showed a willingness to contribute in-kind to the plant’s rehabilitation and a capability of area residents to pay for electricity. Construction began in May 2011, and thanks to concerted efforts, the plant is now fully operational.
“We want to replicate the Yandohun project using the experience we have gained,” Goanue said. “We now have the experience and confidence to manage other similar projects around the country.”