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CHALLENGES 2006-2007: Togo and Benin End the Year in Darkness

Noël Kokou Tadégnon

LOME, Dec 14 2006 (IPS) - For the neighbouring West African nations of Togo and Benin, most of the past year has been plagued by power cuts that have been an inconvenience at best – and a source of financial hardship at worst.

Some 80 percent of electricity used by the two countries comes from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, which are struggling to maintain the supply. Togolese authorities ascribe this to low water levels in key hydroelectric dams in the region: Akossombo in Ghana, and Taabo and Kossou in Côte d’Ivoire. This has been caused by drought.

There have also been problems with the supply of natural gas that fuels power stations producing electricity in Côte d’Ivoire.

As a result, the Volta Region Authority (VRA) of Ghana and the Ivorian Electricity Company (Compagnie ivoirienne d’électricité, CIE) reduced their transmissions in March when the crisis began. Supplies were cut from 140 megawatts (MW) daily to the current 80, says the Electricity Community of Benin (Communauté électrique du Bénin, CEB) – based in the Togolese capital of Lomé.

According to the CEB, which manages power in Togo and Benin, the countries have a total daily electricity need of 200 MW.

The remaining 60 MW of power have previously been supplied through the CEB and national distribution firms: the Electrical Energy Company of Togo (Compagnie énergie électrique du Togo, CEET) and the Beninese Electric Energy Company (Société béninoise d’énergie électrique).

However, a drop in water levels also occurred at the dam on Lake Nangbéto in southern Togo, used by the CEB to supply power to Benin and Togo. This created an additional deficit of between 19 MW and 36 MW, said CEB communications director Amah Tchamdja.

The energy crisis reached a peak in June, and worsened again in November. In a bid to ration power in an orderly fashion, Benin and Togo started daily four- to six-hour electricity cuts that are shared between different cities and neighborhoods. However, the outages can last for up to 14 hours.

Some people have been able to plan accordingly. Assam Ahmed, a restaurateur in Lomé, has bought a generator to assure himself of a reliable power supply. “My restaurant is constantly busy and I don’t have any outages,” he told IPS.

Others find matters more difficult. “The situation is disrupting our lives,” complained Edmond Séshie, the manager of a fish shop in Lomé, who doesn’t have money to buy a generator for refrigeration. “We need electricity full time to keep our fish fresh, but more and more often, we’re finding ourselves with rotten fish.”

The cost of generators varies between 500 and 20,000 dollars – while solar panels, an alternative source of power, sell for between 200 and 24,000 dollars: prices beyond the reach of many in Benin and Togo.

Radio and television stations are also affected by the power cuts. “The shortages interrupt our work, and what’s most inconvenient is the fact that the CEET does not respect the set outage hours,” says Junior Edem Aménunya, editor in chief of the TV7 television channel in Lomé, who has just bought a generator.

Tchamdja says the CEB is doing what it can. “We are already exploring ways of resolving the situation,” he told IPS, noting that the solution to the power cuts lies in having more electricity providers.

With this mind, the CEB has embarked on various projects, most notably an 80 million dollar initiative with Nigeria which could be operational by March 2007, or earlier. “This interconnection will make an extra 75 megawatts available,” said Tchamdja, adding that the project would mean sufficient energy delivered to Benin and Togo, at a lower cost.

CEB gas turbines will also be upgraded to allow for the use of natural gas from Nigeria, being delivered to Benin and Togo under the West African Gazoduc project. This initiative aims to construct a 700-kilometre gas pipeline that will send natural gas from Nigeria all the way to Ghana, via Benin and Togo.

In addition, the CEB’s directors hope to speed up the Adjrarala hydroelectric dam project in Benin, on the Mono River which flows through Benin and Togo. An estimated 162 million dollars is needed for the dam, which should reduce the energy dependence of the two countries on other parties.

However, the CEB is in financial difficulties. According to Tchamdja, it owes some 31.8 million dollars to the CIE and VRA, and to petroleum companies for the purchase of hydroelectric energy and fuel for its power stations. In addition, the CEB owes a total of 5.7 million dollars in bank loans.

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