Still in the dark after 35 years

Editorial, Normal

The National – Wednesday, February 2, 2011

EXACTLY a year after independence in September 1976, then public utilities minister Donatus Mola announced ambitious plans for rural electrification.
He said where feasible micro-hydro power would be developed in rural areas and, from the plan, distribution lines would be spread out to places demanding the service.
In time, the distribution lines would link together all the micro-hydro stations so that a second step can take place where one major hydro-electric power station can link up all the distribution lines and minor power plants.
Not long before Mola’s announcement, students at the University of Technology demonstrated that hydro-power could be generated using simple technology on a small scale in remote locations.
That was then. A tested and ready applied technology was available as was a workable political dream.
The reality has been a black nightmare of unreliable power supply, power outages, damaged electrical and electronic appliances, untold number of lost productivity, damaged foodstuffs causing major inconveniences.
Nobody, who has lived in Port Moresby, is unfamiliar with the blackout story.
From the bar to the pulpit, there is a blackout story to be told. It has become so that it is a joke.
But, of course, it is not a joke.
Hundreds of millions of kina is lost through power blackouts alone, directly and indirectly.
Now, if urban PNG does not get reliable electricity, what hope is there for rural PNG? What hope is there for the realisation of Mola’s dream?
Unfortunately, for an answer, all fingers point to the sole supplier of electricity in the country – PNG Power.
It is a difficult one and, perhaps, the accusations are unnecessarily harsh and unfair in many instances but blame cannot be passed off anywhere else.
PNG Power chief executive officer Tony Koiri said, at a media conference last week, that PPL did not have the money to fund urgent work to get reliable electricity supply to all centres.
“We do not want to make any excuses for the recent power outages,” he said.
“While there has been a separate initiating incident on each occasion, each of these has led to a more extensive blackout.
“This has exposed weaknesses in the system and PPL is taking steps to replace the faulty electronic equipment that, in most cases, are old.
“We acknowledge that such weak spots should have been identified and maintained proactively.”
Koiri assured residents in PNG that there were promising prospects for a stable electricity system by 2014, but the biggest concern now was the short-term sustenance of power, especially for the major centres where a lot of business activities occur.
For Port Moresby, he assured that a new generation capacity was being added that should restore supply to normal by the end of the month.
Koiri said PNG Power was looking at other energy sources to supply electricity in the long term.
PPL and the government had initialed a memorandum of understanding to use gas from the Hides reservoir.
But, why wait for the gas when PPL has had 35 years since independence to get it right?
Has it investigated using solar and wind power?
Why has Mola’s dream never eventuated when hydro-power plants were feasible for village settings from Independence Day on?
It is one of the greatest ironies that PNG, with all its fast-flowing rivers and streams, does not have rural electricity.
Rural electricity remains a far-off dream after 35 years of independence.
To this day, Mola’s dreams remain unfulfilled and rural hydro-electrification has made no headway.
In hindsight, rural electrification could have assisted in breaking down the rural-urban drift and the ensuing massive social problems experienced over the last 35 years.
It could have meant more opportunities and a better standard of living for the rural population when rural power is integrated with all aspects of development; agricultural, village, industrial, social and economic.
Mola’s dream remains and, along with it, his ideas about how it should be done.
“The distribution of this power must rest in the hands of the provincial authorities so that the people not only receive but actually own the power that is generated within their province,” he said.
We agree.