Lindeners yesterday questioned the developers of the Amaila Falls hydropower project, expressing concerns about the cost of power and jobs at a community meeting to discuss the recently released Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report on the project.
A sub-station is expected to be built in the Region Ten mining town and a company official highlighted the benefits of the project during the first of two meetings planned. The other is expected to be held in Georgetown. Despite the small turnout at the early stage of the meet yesterday, organizers were pleased by the participation. Most persons expressed concern about the future of the Linden Utility Services Co-op Society Limited (LUSCSL) which provides electricity to the community and the creation of jobs for local residents.
Sithe Global is developing the Amaila hydropower project, through its local subsidiary Amaila Falls Hydro Inc. In an advertisement placed in the local press, the company said that it has over 300 years of experience in implementing large scale, socially responsible power generation projects and it manages energy projects around the world totaling over 7,000 megawatts. It said it is “committed to developing the Amaila Hydropower Project in a transparent way that considers local community interests and minimizes social and environmental impacts.”
The first meeting was held at the Linden Enterprise Network (LEN) with key stakeholders of the community followed by a public consultation at the Linmine Constabulary Recreational Hall.
In an invited comment, Senior Vice-President of Sithe Global, Jim McGowan noted that major concerns included what would be the ultimate cost of electricity. “That’s always a big question. It is very clear that the price of generation will be much lower than any other alternative,” he said. He pointed out that early in the project, a 230 kV sub-station will be set up in Linden. “Linden will be a staging area for construction. We need to make sure that we keep the community informed and maintain good relationships,” he added.
McGowan stressed that Linden stands to benefit from vast economic development since the project is designed to reduce the cost of electricity which, in turn, is likely to encourage investments in factories and companies in the community because of the cheaper, reliable power supply.
In relation to employment, he said that they are impressing upon contractors not to discriminate against local workers and to have a very clear employment policy to allow local workers to secure jobs on the project. “We will monitor that carefully because we know that jobs are important to the region,” McGowan said. He added that the company commits to being a good corporate citizen and will support local activities, events and things of interest designed to develop or provide social recreation to members of the community.
Shannon McKenzie, an electrical engineer attached to the Linden Electricity Company Inc, in sharing his personal opinion, said he was impressed by the scope of the study particularly as it relates to the environmental impact. He said that he expressed his concerns with regards to the maintenance of the high voltage lines. “Since they would only have one tower, they would have to do hot line maintenance which means that the line is going to be active while they are doing the maintenance and that would require a lot of expensive equipment, a lot of technical safety procedures that we would have to learn because of our involvement when they step out,” he opined.
Local businessman, George Marshall said: “What I want to know is how many Guyanese would be employed over a period of time after the construction?” He said that it is his understanding that mainly expatriates would be involved in the operation and opined that there are learned and aspiring locals who can be trained to take up key positions in the company.
Marshall also questioned the cost at which the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) would be purchasing the power from the investors. “They can control the grid but what would we, the small man, would be able to pay because right now de small man can’t afford to pay the cost GPL would want to throw on us. And if I am to bring in my son to invest would he be looking at a cheap source of current,” he added, “This is all good what they are telling us here but this is the contractual part of it, but we have to look at the trickle effect.”
Marshall also queried the extent of safety precautions for the area where the plant would be set up. He said that history has shown that there have been several breaches of hydropower dams across the world, devastating communities by the extensive flooding and the loss of lives and properties. “I don’t have any confidence in GPL whatsoever especially when it comes to maintenance and the selling back of current to residents, I have no confidence in them,” he said.
Marshall and another resident, Staydon Payne questioned the future of the LUSCSL. Payne said that he was particularly interested in knowing how the power stations in Linden will disperse power given that the community is heavily subsidized by government through the existing system. “Presently from my assessment of the project proposal we are paying cheaper than what is going to be offered under that project, also recognizing that there is a Co-op in Wismar that has a different arrangement in relation to disbursing power,” said Payne.
He said that yesterday’s meeting was self-explanatory and very detailed. Members of the Sithe Global team met one-on-one with individuals between 4pm and 8pm.
McGowan noted that Guyana has been evaluating alternative energy and hydropower projects for decades and for this project, further analyses to determine the correct site, size, road location, and other aspects were done. These analyses helped determine the best configuration for the project by maximizing the use of water energy while minimizing the cost and environmental and social impacts.
The next stage of the project will be the finalizing of the ESIA with comments by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), McGowan said. He added that they will be addressing any comments that may come up and hope to get the approval from the IDB’s Board which will allow them to begin construction of the sub-station in Linden sometime during the third or fourth quarter of this year.
The company is currently negotiating the contract for the construction of the hydropower plant with China Railways and once this is completed, construction could take 39 to 40 months. McGowan said that further consultations with stakeholders will continue following the finalizing of the second stage consultation reports.