Amaila Falls hydro would be burden to taxpayers as currently structured

-Engineer Charles Ceres

Civil, Geotechnical and Groundwater Hydrology engineer, Charles Ceres has said that the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project (AFHP) as currently structured would be a heavy burden to taxpayers should it be given the go-ahead.

Ceres’ comments on the project were reported on Wednesday by the Ministry of the Presidency, a further sign that the government is trying to mobilise public opinion against the project. The matter has now come to a head as what was supposed to be a final facts-based review of the feasibility of the project by Norconsult has come out in favour of it going ahead.

Charles Ceres

That has not stopped the government from citing parts of the report to support its position that the controversial project shouldn’t go ahead.

Ceres said that while Guyana continues to push for a ‘green’ economy and a ‘green’ footprint, Amaila, at this point of the country’s development, is not viable and other renewable energy possibilities, such as solar, wind and biomass can be pursued as cheaper options.

The engineer further contended that the flaws and risks which have been pointed out by the Norconsult review are significant and fatal to the project.  He contended  that the Government is correct in its position that the several risks and flaws in the design of the project will threaten its long-term effectiveness and prove too costly and burdensome.

However, nowhere in the Norconsult report is there any statement that the engineering flaws that it pinpointed are fatal to the project. To the contrary, Norconsult says the Amaila project remains the best prospect for Guyana’s clean energy ambitions.

Speaking on some of the issues, which were identified by Norconsult, Ceres said that the matter of an absence of any sediment handling methodology in the design of the plant is a ‘fatal flaw’.

“There is no provision in the design for the removal of sediment from the reservoir. So it is conceivable that we can have a reservoir, which is filled with sediment by the time this project is handed over to Guyana… if this reservoir ‘sediment up’ within that period we have access to no electricity, because there is no mechanism to remove sediment. Typically, with most high powered plants you have a sediment removal facility in the base of the reservoir itself… So what this means is that it is fatal flaw in this project”, Ceres contended.

Ceres said that another fatal flaw pinpointed in the report is the absence of a fly wheel, an energy storage mechanism, which is a critical element of the project.

“The reality is that with the absence of the fly wheel, it was never specified in the document. The absence of the flywheel negates any possibility of us being able to generate any power because the fly wheel is a critical element of the project. It was never mandated by the technical specifications or in the design. What that would have led to would have been a fight between the developer and the contractor,” the engineer stated.

“They have also identified the fact that we should be examining an underground powerhouse as opposed to an above ground powerhouse. There are implications for that because they have mentioned the fact that there will be need for more geological work and geotechnical work on the site to determine that there isn’t a fatal flaw in going underground… No one has done any work to characterise the additional monies that would have to be spent to make this project a viable project.

What Norconsult has said is that it would incur the consumer an additional expense to do the additional geotechnical work. For example, if they start doing that work and they find out that the rock in the area is highly fractured and the reservoir integrity is not going to be guaranteed in the long run, we would have a whole lot of loss from the base of the reservoir also.  So those are still issues that haven’t been defined. To move this project forward will require that additional expenses be incurred to do that,” Ceres further argued.

He added that the level of uncertainty is a significant risk for such a large investment.

“Incurring these additional expenses do not provide a guarantee that whatever solution they come up with would be viable because it is still in its exploratory stage. Let’s say we go out there and spend three years compiling hydrological data as Norconsult has recommended and it comes back and proves that the project is not viable, we have already expended three years waiting. That three years could have been much better spent looking at alternative energy sources, which we know are available,” Ceres said.

Ceres said that there are cheaper and less risky options, which can be pursued, all in keeping with the country’s ‘green’ agenda. He believes that rice industry waste can generate a significant amount of power. “We have looked at biomass in Guyana and you know we can generate power for all the Essequibo Coast from biomass from rice husk?

We have enough rice husk on the Essequibo and the Corentyne to generate as much as six megawatts of power but I don’t think anyone has looked at those as options and those are options that are readily available and less costly… So what we need to do as a people is to examine what are the least cost options available to us,” he posited.

He said that for too long, the discussion has been only about hydropower.

“We haven’t looked at the other mixes that we can put together to satisfy the power of the country. We should be examining the total mix that is available to us; solar, wind and biomass. I think we need to have this discussion because people seem to think that Amaila is the only solution. Speaking as a Guyanese, who would have to pay for these resources and for the development of Amaila Falls, I think that in the short term we can use the money that is available to us in a much better way. We can optimise the use of that money much more than we can if we build Amaila Falls.

If we have the resources to spend, then it will be much better spent developing renewable resources in closer proximity to our current capacity and that is something that is not going to cost the country as much,” Ceres said.

Ceres’ company Ground Structures Engineering Consultants Inc was the company that produced the first Environmental Impact Assessment study for the Amaila project, according to the Norconsult report.


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