Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 March 2016:
In July 2014, the government of Sierra Leone signed an agreement for a landmark renewable energy project, that could generate and supply much needed clean electricity to homes and businesses across the capital.
But the Freetown Solar Park project, costing $18 million, has disappeared from the government’s radar. No solar, no electricity – no money.
And no one in high places in Sierra Leone wants to talk about the Freetown Solar Park Project, despite attempts by the Sierra Leone Telegraph to obtain information about progress.
On the 31st of June 2014, Sierra Leone’s ministry of finance and economic development announced that when completed, the Freetown Solar Park would provide six Megawatts of electricity.
Speaking at the signing ceremony for the project, minister of finance and economic development – Dr Kaifala Marah (Photo) said: “We wish on behalf of the Government of Sierra Leone to thank Mr. Siray Timbo – Special Envoy and Ambassador to the UAE; the Ministry of Energy; Mr Bahige Annan – The Consul General of Sierra Leone in Dubai; and Mr. Filip Matwin – General Manager of Advanced Science and Innovation Company (ASIC) LLC / OGI, for coordinating and putting together the winning bid.
“ASIC/OGI will facilitate co-financing and management of the project in collaboration with the Ministry of Energy.”
So what happened to the $18 million funding that was approved for this project?
The $18 million was meant to support both capital and revenue costs of establishing the Solar Park, as well as fund the training of local staff in technical skills development and management of the facility.
Minister Marah was clear about the funding arrangement put in place, as he extended his “gratitude to IRENA, for coordinating the selection process, the ADFD for extending USD 9 million as part funding to the Government of Sierra Leone and ASIC/OGI that will coordinate additional USD 9 million as private equity.”
Marah also said at the time that; “The project will place Sierra Leone on the global map of Renewable Energy; and further strengthen the existing cordial relationship between the Governments of Sierra Leone and the United Arab Emirates.”
With an estimated 90% of households in Sierra Leone suffering from electricity poverty, and total electricity production not more than 30 Megawatts from the Bumbuna Hydro-electricity plant in the north of the country (Photo), Sierra Leone’s economy is being crippled by the lack of electricity and corruption.
Six megawatts of electricity may be a drop in the ocean for a country whose non-industrial consumer needs is estimated at 500 megawatt (MW). But for Sierra Leone, where every watt of electricity produced, can make the difference between life and death, an uninterrupted supply of 6 MW of electricity supplying 3,000 homes is more than welcomed.
And it is for this reason, that questions are being asked about this project and the $18 million funding that was earmarked to support its development.
In January 2014, president Koroma attended a renewable energy summit in Abu Dhabi (Photo: Was president Koroma interested in those discussions?), where interest in harnessing Sierra Leone’s abundant sunshine and energy potential was seriously considered among 80 other competing applications.
And when the decision was announced by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), Sierra Leone was among a short list of six successful developing countries to receive funding totalling $80 million.
The six projects selected by IRENA / ADFD in 2014 are supposed to be based in Ecuador, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Samoa, and Sierra Leone, and were projected to generate a combined total of 35 MW of electricity and 4 million litres of bio-diesel production per year, benefiting over 300,000 people and businesses a year.
According to a statement released by IRENA in January 2014; “Projects funded in the first round of the facility were selected by ADFD from a shortlist recommended by IRENA, which evaluated the technical and commercial merit and the socio-economic benefits of the projects. Projects had to be transformative, replicable and innovative.” (Photo: Sierra Leone street solar).
Sierra Leone’s success in winning this $18 million solar energy project bid, was hinged on the World Bank’s announcement of a $40 million financing package for the rehabilitation of the country’s electricity sector.
The World Bank Country Director in Sierra Leone – Mr. Yusupha Babatunde Crookes, said this at the time: “Electricity reaches less than 10 percent of the population in Sierra Leone and its cost is one of the highest in the sub region.”
So what was the $18 million project going to provide for the people of Sierra Leone?
According to the statement by the company – Mulk Renewable, who had been awarded the procurement contract to build and manage the Freetown Solar Project, the money was to be used solely to establish the solar park in Freetown.
“The Solar Park in Freetown, with a capacity of 6 MW, will be one of West Africa’s largest solar parks,” says Mulk Renewable.
Spear headed by Mr. Khurram Nawab founder of MULK Renewable Energy and inventor of its broad and innovative patented Solar Technologies portfolio, the company was to provide engineering, procurement and construction expertise for Sierra Leone’s first integrated and large-scale solar energy production project.
The Solar PV panels was to have been sourced through a partnership with Masdar PV, a 100% subsidiary of Masdar – Abu Dhabi’s multifaceted initiative for innovative renewable energy technologies, launched and owned by the Mubadala Development Company.
The General Manager of Advanced Science and Innovation Company (ASIC) LLC, was to have been responsible for the overall management of the project.
“I feel glad that our effort to get this clean energy project to the forefront has been successful. From the start, I have been constantly driven to change this thought into reality and now I’m definite that with our joint technology expertise and support of the Ministry of Energy of Sierra Leone and Advanced Science and Innovation Company(ASIC), we will be able to successfully deliver this landmark project in the best possible way,” says Mr. Bahige Annan – the Consul General of Sierra Leone in Dubai, UAE.
The Freetown Solar Park was planned to generate 6 MW of electricity that could have been powering 3,000 homes in Sierra Leone, had the government gone ahead with the project.
Sierra Leone needs a total of 500 MW of electricity to meet the needs of its non-industrial consumers. And the company was aiming to achieve 25% of the country’s energy generation from renewable sources by the end of last year – 2015.
What happened to the $18 million Freetown Solar Park?
The Sierra Leone Telegraph contacted senior government officials in the Koroma government, including the energy ministry and the office of the vice president, but no one agreed to comment.