The Sierra Leone Electricity and Water Regulatory Commission (SLEWRC) together with UNOPS, the Ministry of Energy, and the mini-grid operators (Off Grid Power, Winch Energy and Power Leone) held an eleven days’ community engagement on proposed tariff at 13 locations under the Ministry of Energy’s Rural Renewable Energy Project (RREP).

The locations include Sandaru, Penguia Chiefdom in Kailahun District; Bumpeh, Bumpe Ngawo Chiefdom in Bo District; Bandajuma Sowa, Sowa Chiefdom in Pujehun District; Bauya  Kongbora Chiedom in Moyamba District; Tihun, Sogbini Chiefdom in Bonthe District; Gandorhun, Gbane Chiefdom in Kono District; Mara,  

Malal Mara Chiefdom in Tonkolili District; Rokonta, Bombali Shebora Chiefdom in Bombali District; Kathantha Yimboi, Sella Limba Chiefdom in Karena District; Musaia Folosaba Dembelia Cheifdom  in Koinadugu District; Wara-wara Bafodia Chiefdom in Falaba District; Petifu junction, Loko Masama Chiefdom in Port Loko District; and lastly, Gbalamuya, Gbinle Dixing Chiefdom in Kambia District to discuss the tariff proposed by the operators and the tariff under consideration by the Commission.

Section 45 of the SLEWRC Act 2011 gives the Commission the authority to approve rates for electricity and water services and sub-section 3 of this same section also makes provision for the consumers and utilities to be affected by the services, to be given an opportunity to be heard and the Commission shall take into account any the representation made before a final rate(s) is approved. It was on this basis the engagements were held.

The objective of the engagement was to give the community people a better understanding as to the dynamics and considerations taken into account before arriving at tentative tariff structure for all lots  under the RREP. It is also aimed to give the community an opportunity to give their feedback on the expectation, comments and suggestions regarding the affordability of both the tariff level and the structure that has been presented by the Commission.

The UNOPS representative, Mr. Hans Ceesay affirmed UNOPS’ commitment to supporting the Government of Sierra Leone to enrich the lives of all regardless of their locations and as such, partnered with mini grid operators like Winch Energy, Power Leone and OGP to ensure that the highlighted communities are electrified. He explained that in total, only 94 communities are benefitting from the RREP project with an initial 50 communities connected. He also commented on the sustainability aspect of the project based on the quality of the equipment that has been installed in the communities. He stated that it is targeted that the current initial installments should last more than 30 years with the use of 26/36 kw of energy even though based on assessments carried out, 26kw is adequate for each of the communities.  He urged the community members to work closely with the operators for a win-win situation on all sides.

Presentation/Review of the proposed tariff was done by Economic Regulator (ER) Brima Bah and assisted by Head Electricity Department Ing. Kelcise Sesay as to the explanation of kw and kW/hour. During the pre-tariff public engagements with communities benefitting from the UNOPS RREP mini-grids, the explanation of the terms kW and kWh were as follows: kilowatt (kW) – the unit of measurement of electrical power. 1 kW = 1,000 W.

Mr. Brima Bah, the Economic Regulator gave a brief background as to how the Commission was created and constituted, the meaning of tariff – price the consumers are to pay for electricity as per kwh, meaning of mini grid, connection fee of Le 150,000 which is outside of the tariff and can be paid as a lump sum or on an installment basis. He further explained that in a study done by UNOPS in 2017 in 68 rural communities with over 2,500 interviews, they found out that on average, people are spending Le 59,000 per month for batteries, kerosene, charging of phones. If we assume that a customer will consume on average 0.39 kwh per month, it will cost Le 2,925 per month. If consumption rises to a normal 3.5 kw per month, the monthly expenditure will not exceed SLL 27,000 per month assuming a tariff of SLL 7500 /kwh. With 3.5kw, a customer can have 2 energy saving bulbs of 7watts, charge up to 4 phones per day and a radio that can be used on a daily basis and this cannot cost more than Le 27000 per month. It was agreed by all at the engagements that just the cost of batteries on a monthly basis is much higher than this as batteries for torchlight and radio cost an average of 40,000 per month. In a nutshell, the communities were advised on the importance of conserving energy as best as possible by turning off bulbs and radios as they leave their homes. Based on the proposed rate, Le 135000 spent on a monthly basis, a potential customer can use 7 lamps, one radio, charge phone, use television and fan. It was however pointed out to potential consumers that more appliances mean higher consumption and more cost of electricity charge/top up.

                                                        Panel Site @ Gbalamuya

The engagement closed out with questions and concerns from the community members for a better understanding of the discussion during the engagement process.