Improving Energy Security

WRITTEN BY Momar Sow

The Government of Benin approached the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) in March 2014 to request financing for a 400 MW thermal power plant. In April, IsDB undertook a fact-finding mission in Cotonou to discuss the sizing, fuel type and the dispatchability of the proposed capacity. IsDB convinced the government to introduce the program in phases, with a first phase of 120 MW to be commissioned by 2019. The first phase therefore became a priority for the government to alleviate the shortage of electricity supply in the country and to stimulate economic growth. The construction of the Maria Gléta dual-fuel power plant has secured Benin’s energy needs, while improving local livelihoods.

The days of my life growing up in Cotonou, riddled with its ridiculous power outages, are etched in my memory. Despite all its shortcomings and the seemingly never-ending line of problems, I grew up to love the city. We were fortunate enough to live right in the middle of the busiest and one of the most well-kept cities of our beloved Benin.

The power shortfall of our country, however, didn’t seem to forgive even its socio-economic center of Cotonou. I still remember one of our teachers telling us that we were importing around 91% of our electricity from the likes of Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. He also told us that this electricity import was expected to only increase in the future, with the power demand at the time growing at 10.4% per year.

This made me wonder how this dependency on other countries affects our Gross Domestic Product and the entire nation’s dream of becoming one of the strongest and the most developed in all of Africa. Even in 2014, with most of our electricity being imported, there were recurrent power cuts, which affected industrial and home consumers alike. 

I was fortunate enough to be offered an observership by our government on the upcoming Maria Gléta thermal power plant construction project. It all started with the government approaching IsDB in March of 2014, in a bid to secure financing for the construction of a 400 MW power plant to move the country towards self-sufficiency in terms of electricity production. 

From the official documentation that I was offered to read as part of my report making, I found that the people at IsDB advised our government to break down the project into phases, for quick remediation of our power shortages. The first phase of the series, with a total production capacity of 120 MW, was to be commissioned by 2019. 

I remember the joyous reporting style of the national TV host announcing the signing of the lease on December 12, 2014. Some of my fellow community members were even applauding the government for securing such a huge investment for the good of the country. 

"Everyone in Benin was blown away by the incredible work ethic of the company, with its regard for worker safety."

Although I didn’t know the inside details of the project at that time, a quick read of the official documentation showed how the project costs were divided among four key players: IsDB (EUR 119.6 million), BOAD (EUR 15 million), the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) (EUR 23 million) and finally, the Government of Benin (EUR 4.7 million). A five-year Operation and Maintenance contract was also put in place, to be effective upon the completion of the power plant’s construction. 

Not only was the construction of the Maria Gléta thermal power plant project important for the country’s power needs, it also served as a much-needed source of income for the country’s unemployed. A total of 1,703 local jobs were created by this futuristic project. Even after completion, the thermal plant continues to be a source of permanent employment for 54 local staff members. 

Upon its successful completion, the project replaced the outgoing 180 MW of rented electrical power and also an 80 MW gas turbine, both of which were putting an unnecessary strain on our economy. By the end of 2019, the Maria Gléta thermal power plant had saved us roughly USD 11 million, which is a lot for a country like ours. 

Everyone in Benin was blown away by the incredible work ethic of the company, with its regard for worker safety; it even went the extra mile by providing 700 mosquito nets to prevent the workers from contracting malaria. A total of 10 different information campaigns were organized for the workers, educating them on sexually transmitted diseases and effective measures for their prevention. Another record-making aspect of the project was the absolute lack of any on-site injuries. There was one off-site traffic accident, related to the project, which was reported in the news. 

"IsDB had helped us achieve 50% independency in terms of electricity production"

Reading the documentation later, I came to know about the work that was put into ensuring that there were no ill-effects of the power plant’s construction, on either the people or the environment. In the entire history of my homeland, there was never a project so expertly handled and executed. 

Even the noise levels are very low, less than 50 decibels to be precise. My admiration for IsDB has increased manifold after getting an inside view on how the project ran its course. There is a distinct mention of the compensation for the 363 people affected by the project and also the allocation of funds for the purchase of the land. 

In a first for our country, the project was completed even before the estimated completion date. The joy and the happiness of every man, woman and child in Benin, on August 26, 2019, was worth watching. What is even more surprising is that the initially planned 120 MW capacity of the project was upped to 127 MW, coupled with electricity evacuation and gas supply sub plants. The absence of any mid-project changes in the costs and scope was the cherry on top. 

And just like that, IsDB had helped us achieve 50% independency in terms of electricity production. The benefits are, however, not only limited to power production. A total of 24 new classrooms have been built for students in Houêto, which is nothing short of a miracle for students previously facing a dent in the quality of their education due to the absence of resources and power. 

Moreover, the new access road, also rebuilt during the course of the project, has allowed the local population to benefit a great deal, in terms of their trade activities. The Maria Gléta thermal power plant project is surely a stepping stone for a modern, self-sufficient and developed Benin.