Ethiopian experts begin work on Sierra Leone hydroelectric project

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Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) has been hired to manage the recently constructed Bumbuna Hydroelectric Project (BHP) in Sierra Leone by the west African country’s National Power Authority (NPA). The project was undertaken by Italian-based firm, Salini Costruttori.

A tender launched by NPA, in July 2009, to attract foreign power companies to operate and maintain installations in accordance with internationally recognised standards was won by EEPCo, which sees itself working abroad for the first time in its half-century-plus-experience in the management of hydroelectric power dams in Ethiopia.

EEPCo has already deployed 15 engineers to Sierra Leone to manage and maintain Bumbuna. The state run Ethiopian company had originally planned to send over 40 staff to the site, including drivers and managers. A decision by the management, however, saw a reduction of their expatriate staff. Meanwhile, Mehiret Dibebe, CEO of EEPCo, has confirmed that the corporation has already begun operations in Sierra Leone.

EEPCo will train Sierra Leonean power authorities on the procedures needed to run their plant in the future. The Ethiopian experts are expected to remain in the West African country for at least 18 months.

Mehiret Dibebe also added that EEPCo professionals on dam management are currently managing nine hydropower sites, including two recently inaugurated dams in Ethiopia.

June last year, the Government of Sierra Leone received a supplementary loan from the African Development Fund to meet the cost of completing Bumbuna. Freetown decided to apply part of the funds for the management, operation and maintenance of the plant and associated transmission facilities.

Troubled past

Construction on BHP began in 1970, but conflict in the diamond-rich country hampered its progress. The project was eventually suspended in 1997 when it was about 85 per cent complete. Eight years later, in June 2005, the World Bank approved the resumption of construction.

BHP was finally commissioned in November 2009 by the country’s president.

The project entails a hydro-power complex, located on the Seli River, in the valleys of the Sula Mountains, approximately 200 kilometres northeast of the capital, Freetown, in the Kalansogoia Chiefdom of the Tonkolili district. It encompasses an 88 metre high rock-filled dam with an asphalted concrete upstream face; a 50 MW power station, housing two turbine-generator units of 25 MW each; a transmission system consisting of 200 km of 161 kV transmission line from the power station to Freetown.

Much of Sierra Leone’s power generation capacity was hampered during the civil war. The country currently experiences frequent blackouts and in the Freetown peninsula, electricity supply is available to customers only for a few hours every week. Most areas in the interior of the country are wholly or largely without access electricity.

Italian-based Salini Costruttori is currently constructing three hydropower projects in Ethiopia; Gibe III and Tana Beles. It also constructed Gilgel Gibe I and II.

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