Amaila: Trapped by myopic worldviews

Anyone concerned with the present perilous direction of climate change must hope that countries not only stick to the commitments they made under the UNFCCC 2015 process but if possible raise their ambitions.  It makes no difference that Guyana is one of only a few countries  that are net carbon sinks; it made certain commitments which its current behaviour calls into question its capacity to fulfill.

Just after the presentation of the Norconsult report on the development of the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project in December last year, it became quite obvious that for the government of Guyana to stymie the project, as it then appeared to be inclined to do,  and still gain access to the US$80m which was set aside to help it finance the construction of  Amaila, it would have to devise another approach that will be as, if not more, effective, certain and timely in fulfilling its legally binding international climate change commitment to be generating nearly 100% of the electricity it needs from renewable sources by 2025 (SN: 11/01/2017).

The reality is that, notwithstanding much talk about our developing a green economy to help combat climate change, the government has not yet made public any definitive plans to fulfill its commitments, but some of its well-placed supporters have been speaking in a generalized manner that suggests that Amaila should be de-prioritised and that the government should concentrate instead on a mix of energy supplies. For example, Retired Rear Admiral and Presidential Advisor on the Environment, Gary Best (Chr: 07/01/2017 to 05/02/2017) suggested that since Guyana has national exploitable hydro potential estimated at some 8,400 MW, an inefficient electricity generating and deliverer, namely the Guyana Power and Light, and excellent solar energy possibilities, the US$80m should be utilised ‘to do a comprehensive hydropower update study; making the GPL more efficient and investing in solar farms.’

Thus, just over a week ago, up came the Director of the Norwegian International Climate and Forest Initiative, Special Envoy Mr. Fredrik Pharo, who while claiming that Rear Admiral Gary Best made a number of misleading comments about the Guyana Norway Agreement, again placed the specific issue under discourse in its proper perspective. ‘[I]f and when the administration delivers a concrete, realistic and cost effective plan for Guyana’s energy transition, it will have our unwavering support and get access to the funds now held by Norway and the IDB. This is not about any particular project, but about a realistic and politically anchored plan to deliver on the Government’s own stated ambition.’

There is a widespread public perception that the APNU+AFC regime is rejecting the Amaila project simply because it was initiated by the PPP/C. I am aware that the low carbon economy sanctioned by the regime in its INDC has now become the green economy and that the Iwokrama rainforest project, an initiative of late President Desmond Hoyte, was downplayed by the PPP/C for similar reasons, but these can rightly be  categorized as facile political posturings. However, given the universal acceptance that there is a need for clean and cheap electricity if Guyana is to adequately grow and fulfill its international environmental commitments, playing this kind of petty politics with Amaila is unacceptably damaging.

Amaila has been trapped in the politically myopic worldviews of both the PPP/C and APNU+AFC governments. What neither seems to understand is that in going forward the idea should be to gain consensus around an energy mix that is best for Guyana, and this will be extremely difficult to achieve if parties become fixated on their pet projects. As I understood it, the former opposition’s quarrel with the PPP/C over the Amaila project was not about the project itself but with the general lack of transparency and the corruption that it believed pervaded the project.

Today, the PPP/C likes to point to the Norconsult report as vindicating its position, but what it fails to grasp is that whether its position was right or wrong is water under the bridge and not helpful to Guyana. What would have been most helpful is if it had been less dogmatic and more transparent and thus allowed an objective process to prevail, substantiate its position and the project be implemented. Far from vindicating its position, the Norconsult report is a startling indictment of its general governance approach.

What further complicates the issue is that the kind of proposals presented by the presidential advisor and others do not adequately communicate that all of what is being proposed as alternatives for Amaila has already been committed to as part of the process of reaching Guyana’s energy commitment of which Amaila is but one element! For as the Norconsult report observed, ‘Amaila Falls alone cannot provide a 100% emission free power generation in Guyana. Other generating sources will have to be added in parallel like sun, wind and thermal production based on emission neutral fuel (bagasse) for back-up in the dry periods when the water flow to AFHP may be insufficient for full capacity operation.’

Importantly, the INDC is structured in terms of those policy areas that the government intends to pursue ‘unconditionally’ and those for which it will require international financial support. As stated in the INDC, ‘In order to implement its conditional adaptation actions, including infrastructural development works, Guyana will require an estimated US$1.6 billion in the period to 2025.’ Amaila was viewed as an important element of its ‘conditional’ commitments and ‘To this end an independent review of the Amaila Falls Project is to be undertaken with the assistance of the Kingdom of Norway.’

So the government of Guyana has ‘unconditionally’ committed to construct the smaller hydroelectricity and other renewable energy projects, which many people now seem to want to use the Norwegian funds to pursue. Coupled with this, the independent review by Norconsult states that ‘The only realistic path for Guyana towards an emission free electricity sector is by developing its hydropower potential’ and notwithstanding some technical and financial restructuring issues, ‘The fastest way forward is to maintain AFHP as the first major step for substituting its current oil fired generation!’

It would be most interesting to see what new configurations the government can design to meet its commitments. However, in this context Mr. Best’s suggestion that Guyana might consider utilising an independent power producer (IPP) to develop the Amaila project is not without merit. Major power projects are usually determined by ‘least cost approaches’ when compared to similar alternatives (not simply capital investment) and apparently Amaila emerges well when an internationally acceptable environmental foot-print is factored in.

A  properly structured and transparently selected IPP would be a major foreign investment which could contribute to economic growth and employment before, during and after the construction.  The government of Guyana must stop pussy-footing and make public its way forward!


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