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Why ‘dumsor’ will not return

BY: Rodney Nrkumah-Boateng
ECG workers working on lines
ECG workers working on lines

On Friday, my mischievous Energy Ministry Communications Unit colleagues Kwasi Obeng-Fosu, Kofi Abrefa and I braved a barrage of telephone calls from media houses seeking telephone interviews regarding an earlier press release on the Ministry’s reaction to an earlier claim by former Power Minister Dr Kwabena Donkor.

Everyone wanted us on air for their midday news. Of course, we had braced ourselves for the assault, given the nature of the subject matter.

The former Minister had stated that on February 15, 2022, the country’s peak demand for power was 3,343MW. That, he claimed, was against the backdrop of 3,527MW being available power, which he stated left us with only 180MW of power, which meant we were dangerously close to matching demand with available power.

He also stated that demand for power increased annually between seven per cent and 15 per cent. From all of this, he predicted a return to ‘dumsor’ if urgent steps were not taken by the government because demand would soon outstrip available power.

‘Dumsor’

Of course, nobody wants a return to the dark days of ‘dumsor’, when power was rationed as if we were in a war situation, and even then, it was not entirely dependable. Small businesses tottered on the brink, and in some cases collapsed outright. No economy can take power reliability for granted and survive.

Many office workers were not in a hurry to rush home after work and one had to call ahead to check if the lights were on before setting off. Sweating and sweltering in the night heat while trying to battle mosquitoes was the experience of many.

Understandably, therefore, any pronouncements suggesting a return to those days would cause some public jitters, especially given its political ramifications and what it cost the previous government at the polls.

Facts on generation

The country’s total current generation capacity is 5358.50MW. Out of this, the government has added 421MW from the Amandi (204MW), Bui Solar (50MW) and VRA Kaleo (17MW) projects since coming into office.  Current peak demand is 3,469MW, which was recorded on March 18, 2022.

Indeed, in the Energy 2021 Outlook online last year, the Energy Commission held that the country would have 5,328.1MW capacity, with dependable capacity being 4879MW, but that due to planned engineering works, a total of 4,054MW would be available to meet the expected peak demand of 3,304MW in 2021.

Dr Donkor’s figure of 3,527MW being available power this year cannot, therefore, be correct, unless he is suggesting that several of our thermal plants have been put out of action, thereby reducing available power to the figure he quoted.

Of course, in a developing country like Ghana, demand for electricity is expected to grow, and to that extent, the former Minister is absolutely right to state that it is important to invest in power generation to enable generation capacity to stay ahead of the demand curve.

This is particularly so when it takes an average of five years for a conventional power plant project to evolve from conception through arrangements for funding detailed design, construction and commissioning to the commencement of commercial operation.

In this respect, government has not been snoozing.  Two major projects are on course. They are:

Early Power: This is a 400MW power plant located at Tema, which will be constructed in two phases made up of 200MW each. Phase 1A of the first phase (147MW) commenced commissioning in 2021.
The second part 1B of 53MW is also expected to come online this year. The final phase making up 400MW is expected to be commissioned by 2024

Pwalugu Hydro and Solar Hybrid Plant: This is a 60MW hydroelectric plant in hybrid operation with a 50MWp Solar PV plant, which is expected to be completed and commissioned by 2025. The plant will be located in the Upper East Region.
Projected demand in 2023, according to the Energy Commission’s 2021 Electricity Supply Plan, is expected to stand at 3,834MW, rising on an annual basis to 4,935MW in 2027.

It is important to add to the generation capacity in a pragmatic, prudent manner and avoid capacity far outstripping projected demand for the simple reason that power generation is expensive. You do not just pile up capacity for the sake of it.

Fuel, finance factors

It will be a huge mistake and probably rather simplistic to presume that increased capacity that outstrips demand in itself necessarily prevents a ‘dumsor’ situation. To keep the turbines working to generate the electricity, you need fuel, and you need to pay for it.

This was a point the Vice President, Dr Bawumia, kept making when the New Patriotic Party (NPP) was in opposition, that ‘dumsor’ was not a generation capacity issue but rather a financial one.

Indeed, as of December 2015, with ‘dumsor’ in full force, installed capacity was 2,923.5 MW, with peak demand standing at 2,200.0 MW, leaving us with excess capacity of 723.5MW.

According to him, the state owed VRA GH¢1 billion, and in turn, VRA owed Nigeria Gas and the West African Pipeline Company $1.3bn. VRA had, therefore, shut down some of its plants because it simply could not afford to purchase fuel to run them.

Under this government, gas flow is no longer uni-directional. The Takoradi-Tema Interconnection Project (TTIP) is ensuring the reverse flow of indigenous natural gas from the West to the East to power our turbines.

What this means is that we no longer have the phenomenon of stranded gas in the west of the country. Again, the Tema LNG project, when completed soon, will allow the importation of LNG to support generation.

Financially, the Cash Water Fall mechanism currently allows for the equitable distribution of funds realised from power sale. Actors in the value chain, therefore, are able to access funds to run, reducing inter-utility indebtedness.

No return

It is understandable, as some do, to insist that any localised power outage, even for a few hours, is ‘dumsor’. After all, if you have been bitten by snake before, you are wary of worms, but one cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, compare sporadic incidents (albeit inconvenient) with dumsor as we came to know it a few years ago. We do not have short memories.

Under Energy Minister Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh, we are not going back to ‘Dumsor’. You can safely bet on this.

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