THE Amaila Falls Hydro Project (AFHP) has become a political football. There are ‘gurus,’ “experts,” pressure groups, consultants, laymen and an assortment of others on the playing field.
While kicking the football, they pontificate on the costs; the environmental effects; the need for more studies; dry river – no power; discrediting the consultants; sowing distrust; doubting every word that comes out the mouths of the proponents (essentially, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo), and so on.
Kicking the football around is more important than scoring a goal for the Guyanese public.
Countries that are signatories to The Paris Agreement, to reduce carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050, are scrambling to secure power sources to satisfy this agreement and grow their economies.
Guyana is blessed with several clean, sustainable and renewable power sources. The Guyana Government has selected a matrix of solar, wind, gas and hydropower to grow the country’s economy and significantly lower power costs to consumers.
Each of the selected power sources has certain advantages and disadvantages. The energy and climate benefits from each source has to be examined for economic viability, and environmental and social effects. The key is to select a matrix that one or more of the power sources offset the disadvantages of one.
Solar and wind are intermittent power sources and the current costs for energy storage from these two sources are exorbitant. Neither of these power sources is reliable to guarantee base-power demands.
Gas, recently discovered offshore in Guyana, is neither clean nor renewable, but can serve as a transitional power source. Hydropower is the world’s largest source of clean, renewable and sustainable energy.
The Paris Agreement and the war in Ukraine are impetus for new hydropower projects and increasing capacity on existing dams worldwide. China has been building thousands of new, mostly massive (e.g., Three Gorges), hydroelectric dams to fuel its growth.
Similarly, countries in Asia, Africa and the Pacific are following suit. This article focuses on hydropower from the Amaila Falls to separate fact from fiction and to address some of the key technical concerns on the necessity for this energy source for Guyana.
Guyana is endowed with hydropower potential to meet all of its current and anticipated needs. The Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) shows a list with over 300, yes over 300, studies on hydropower potential since 1946.
This writer had the opportunity to work on one such study: the feasibility studies for power generation from the Tiboku Falls in the Mazaruni River, conducted by Shawinigan Engineering Company Limited.
Hydropower is the only power source currently available to produce power on demand. In fact, several hydropower facilities in the world are dedicated to producing peak power.
One such facility for which the writer developed a daily operating profile to meet peak power demand and minimize downstream environmental negative impacts in California, Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Nebraska, is the Glen Canyon Dam (total capacity 1,320 Megawatts (MW)) in the Colorado River within Grand Canyon National Park.
By 2025, the total electric power demand in Guyana is estimated at 450 MW. The AFHP is designed to produce 165 MW. AFHP can be operated to address shortfalls in power generation from solar and wind, as a backup, and as an on-demand power-generation facility.
AFHP is a low carbon, low cost, renewable energy source. The reservoir created is a water- storage facility that can be used for agriculture, industries and recreation.
Using a Build Own Operate Transfer (BOOT) model, estimated construction cost of the AFHP is US$700 million and the estimated Guyana Government electric energy purchase cost is 7.7 cents per kilowatt (kW). The large estimated price tag, which is paid by the contractor in the BOOT model, has been a source of misinformation and disinformation.
Whether the construction cost rises to US$1 billion or drops to US$0.5 billion is the responsibility of the BOOT contractor, not the people of Guyana. It is quite likely that the actual cost of construction will be higher than US$700 million because the actual costs for all civil engineering projects, whether it is a house or a hydropower dam, usually vary from estimated costs.
A large portion of the costs in any civil engineering construction is subjected to the vagaries of nature (rainfall, floods, earthquakes, etc.), market fluctuations for labour, materials and equipment, social, health and political unrest (e.g., strikes, pandemic, war).
The Guyana Government needs to ensure that the BOOT contractor has solid financial instruments; technical capacity and capability; enforceable contract terms and must provide quality, incorruptible project management to oversee the project.
There are several social and environmental concerns with hydropower; however, these are not unique to hydropower. Each energy option, including solar and wind, has its own set of environmental issues.
Thus, the decision on the source or sources of renewable, sustainable energy is complex. Nevertheless, a decision has to be made in the best interest of the country’s sustainable, resilient development with environmental stewardship and efficient resource management.
The Guyana Government’s current matrix of clean power sources is a step in the right direction. Without hydropower, Guyana cannot have a reliable electric power grid.
Dr Muniram Budhu