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Sierra Leone News: With new $138 million energy project, World Bank breaks record in supporting Salone

Parminder Brar, World Bank Country ManagerThe World Bank approved on Thursday, July 14 a project to build a new power plant for Sierra Leone. The project comes at a cost of $138 million US dollars.
Parminder Brar, World Bank Country Manager for Sierra Leone, said the power plant project is a milestone for progress in solving Sierra Leone’s energy problems.
“For those of us that live in Freetown, all of us who live around the country, I think electricity is probably one of the biggest constraints facing Sierra Leone,” Brar said at a press conference at the World Bank headquarters in downtown Freetown. “Eighty five percent of the population of Sierra Leone does not have access to electricity. That is a major problem we have to live with, and this new electricity project is going to almost double the availability of electricity.”
Sierra Leone’s most important power plant, the 50 megawatt Bumbuna Hydroelectric Power Station located in the Seli River 200 km northeast of Freetown, is inconsistent, Brar said.
“It can produce in the rainy season, but in the dry season it goes down to zero. And we know this for a fact  what happened this year when the water level reaches 210 feet, the power station is switched off.”
In addition, Brar said it’s a problem for a nation to depend on a river for its supply of power. Sierra Leone needs a base load power supply, which the new power station, with a capacity of 57 megawatts, will provide.
The project, to be located in Kissy, is expected to be operational in June or July 2018.  Final financial clearance on the project is slated for September or October 2016, after which time the 18 month construction process can begin.
The World Bank has a policy letter from the government that, among other measures, commits to covering any shortfall in funding for the project if it occurs.
The World Bank looked at a number of options for expanding energy production in Sierra Leone, Brar said, and the current project would be cheaper than many alternatives.
The project’s focus is on Freetown and the surrounding area. This is partly because Sierra Leone as a whole has a lack of infrastructure to transmit electricity effectively, Brar said. “Even if we wanted to send electricity around the country, the network doesn’t exist,” he said.
There is a planned electricity line between Sierra Leone and Liberia, to be operational in 2019, but until then, the provinces should continue to develop off-grid solutions like solar power for their energy needs, Brar said. Renewables like hydro and solar power are the World Bank’s priority for energy in Sierra Leone.
To fund the project, the World Bank is providing a credit guarantee of $40 million US dollars, the IFC is providing a loan of $30 million dollars, and has also organized another $73.5 million loan from the FMO, EAIF, CDC and AfDB. MIGA is providing a guarantee of $60 million.
These loans are expected to be paid back within a 15 year time frame.
“What the board was extremely happy about that in a fragile country like Sierra Leone, all three arms of the World Bank have collaborated on a much needed energy project,” Brar said.
By Chetanya Robinson
Tuesday July 19, 2016

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