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Opinions of Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Columnist: Attafuah-Danso, Emmanuel

The aggravating energy conundrum & the thermal, hydro debate

The aggravating energy conundrum & the thermal, hydro debate: need for a national energy forum!!

The discovery off-shore and advent of oil in commercial quantities since 2010 and the unfolding prospects of increased economic growth and rapid transformation through expansion of the structure of our economy hinged on industrialization and manufacturing to enhance holistic change in improvising the agriculture sector so it suffers not the acclaimed ‘’Dutch Disease’’, prioritizing Energy(electricity sub-sector) to scale up from its present 2,000 Megawatts (MW) Installed Capacity to reach a medium term minimum of 6,000 Megawatts cannot be reneged on.
Quite recently, at Senchi, the government put together a National Economic Forum which came up with a Medium Term Economic framework to deal with the downturn of the national economy. The MTNEP sought to outline medium term programmes to deal with the depreciating national currency, spiraling inflation, increased wage bill not excluding other micro and macro economic factors weighing down heavily on rapid economic growth, productivity and debt sustainability. The forum which elicited inputs from across the nation and witnessed by all stakeholders including the popular Akua Donkor on the front roll, lest addressed our inevitable energy issues and therefore the aggravated load shedding being witnessed today affirms this viewpoint.
Today, every tom dick and harry from the private sector chop bar operator and all across our national economic life, have come under groaning siege and overwhelmed by the exacerbating energy crisis much to the extent that ,businesses have been grounded. We as a nation and our policy makers cannot be remiss on the fact that what is primary to rapid transformation and economic growth and which deserved prioritization is energy since it is the alchemy which drives growth. It is the singular most important factor which has a multiplier effect on growth. Basic economic principles posit and reckon that, our national income or Gross National Product (GNP) is the aggregate of all production by the citizens of a country on annual basis. Indeed that production is driven largely by energy and therefore you have nothing to measure if you cannot produce. It would be hackneying to note that the Ghanaian private sector is under several and myriads of constraints amidst a poor parity rate or depreciating cedi, high cost and non-available credit, spiraling inflation, high fuel cost affecting cost of production as well as a porous business climate. That the current trauma of unreliable power supply is adding insult to injury cannot be over-emphasized.
The Africa Young Conservatives Dialogue, Ghana (TAYCD, Ghana) reckons that some lasting solution needed to be found to this prevailing national migraine afflicting us all and which is selves-imposed. Indeed it is legitimate to rhetorically who in this case is blamable and who does the buck stop with? The government of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) led by His Excellency John Dramani Mahama appears confounded by the hydra-headedness of the problem and now lamenting a focus on thermal energy rather than a perceivably failing hydro-power. However, this ‘’lamentation’’ without a referenceable verse is palpable and a confirmation of the fact that our government has inspite of its manifesto on energy, missed out on the plot! The plot herein referred connotes the, provisioning of energy sufficient to accelerate economic growth and enhancing quality of life and not mere policy proclamations. Apparently, in our circumstance today, domestic and industrial power consumers have suffered great setback since 2009 and had ran for 72 months virtually. In 2013, it was drastic, pervasive and destructive given the ensued power-related fire outbreaks across our nation. Instructively, the Business World magazine in a piece on power captioned: Positive outlook for power' for 2014, but gas supply remains a headache noted:’’ if any sector singularly shook Ghana’s economy, to its roots in 2013, the electricity sub-sector did in what may be considered a triple whammy.’’ The Dialogue shudder to posit that in 2014, it was a multiple-whammy and the projections of 2015, the least said about it the better. Frankly, this exacerbation of the crisis had negatively affected and become counter-productive and had largely defeated the object of motivating local people to engage in small and medium size businesses which also require use of electricity in the promotion of local industries. In this bleakness, one need to ask what strategy (ies) and policy options are available in finding some solutions quite apart from the adhoc load-shedding? Infact, the business community as well as domestic users have grown weary and much disappointed for the fact that, government inspite of its energy policy approved by Cabinet before elections 2012 on 16th March, 2010, little had been seen of that Cabinet decision. Excerpts of that policy on power read: ‘’the goals of the power sub-sector are to increase installed power generation capacity quickly from 2,000MW today to 5,000 megawatts(mw) by 2015 and increase electricity access from the current level of 66% to universal access by 2020.’’ Interestingly in that same document, it wrote: ‘’ the energy sector vision is to develop an ‘’Energy economy”” to secure reliable supply of high quality energy services for all sectors of the Ghanaian economy and also to become a major exporter of oil and power by 2012 and 2015 respectively.’’
Thence, on Wednesday 18th November,2009, in the 2010 budget statement and at page 91,item number 295,the power generation strategy was captured thus: ‘’ ….. the 126 megawatts Tema Thermal 1 Power Project(TT1PP) which is now fully operational was in 2009. Other ongoing activity include the installation of a 49.5 megawatts Tema Thermal 2 Power Project (TT2PP)(95%complete), construction works on the 400 megawatts Bui hydro-electric project. Government also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Brazilian government for the development of a 90 megawatts Juale hydro-project.’’
Perforce, the curious mind and consumers of electricity equally, notwithstanding the longevity in gestation of electricity infrastructure development and production wonder in bewilderment how for close to 60 months, our country’s fortunes in power supply seemed grounded and overwhelmed. Admittedly, in the 2008 and rehashed in 2012 manifesto of the party forming government today,(the NDC), are outlined acclaimed programmes intended to ensure our energy sufficiency having accused its predecessor government of non-achievement. Indeed another excerpt from it read: ‘’…. The NDC government will take urgent measures to ensure the supply of power on a realistic and sustainable basis.’’ Poignantly, the manifesto also asserts thus: ‘’ restoration of the finances of VRA and ECG.’’ It suffices to note that contrary to all those nice propositions, the ECG and the VRA are today crushing under huge debt partly owed them by the state. Investible funds have been locked up with the government thereby grounding the prospectability of these agencies in power supply. While the NDC government accused the npp over neglect of initiatives it had inherited during its tenure, the NPP in its 2012 party manifesto has this to say: ‘’ Funding for the implementation of mini-hydro projects have been diverted for non-non-energy projects and active agreements and memoranda of understanding (MOU) for more thermal as well as waste-to-energy plants have sadly been abandoned by the NDC government.’’
On Monday, 2nd February, 2015, President John Dramani Mahama on his tour of the power installations in the Tema enclaves ignited a debate suggesting that due to climatic changes and global warming, power generation through hydro must be de-concentrated to play a second fiddle to thermal energy. Indeed this assertion by the president cannot be deemed to be appropriate, obviously given that the infrastructure outlay for that option is grossly paltry. It holds no substitutional prospects at least at this short-to-medium term power needs of our country in the face of our present predicament and light crude oil price instability and fluctuation issues. Having ignited the debate of thermal over hydro, and the Dialogues discontentment notwithstanding, it wish as a matter of urgency to implore and request the government to convene and put together a holistic National Power Forum (NPF) akin to the National Economic Forum so that consummate, time-bound solutions are found to sufficiently deal with this quagmire of counter-productive spectre plaguing our nation helplessly. All well-meaning Ghanaians must be giving and are entreated to avail themselves of this opportunity to dilate on the hydra-headed monster eating up our collective prosperity and wealth. The youth of Ghana must have a voice to make adequate representation as this has negative consequences on their wellbeing and development opportunities. Doubtlessly, our development partners cannot leave us in the lurch at this crucial time of history and national aspirations!
Emmanuel Attafuah-Danso,
Convener, The Africa Young Conservatives Dialogue, Ghana (The Dialogue)