It is time Amaila moves forward – do not let naysayers stop it again

Enough is enough. Let us get the Amaila Falls Hydroelectricity Project going now. Let us not allow the naysayers and the anti-hydroelectricity charlatans in Guyana to dictate the future of this development project. The naysayers, including the PNC, the AFC, the bunch calling themselves APNU, and sections of the media, will continue to find one reason or another to object.
At first it was the impact on the environment, then the design, then the cost. With none of these contrived objections appearing to gain traction among the citizenry, the naysayers keep inventing more absurd reasons to object. The latest one is that solar energy is a preferred option to hydroelectricity.
Right away, this column asks the question: can these naysayers tell us which country has made solar energy its main energy source? The truth is that less than 3% of the global energy comes from solar energy, and in the last twenty years, less than 10% growth has occurred. The “experts” must tell us why, after almost 100 years of solar energy technology, more of the global energy is not coming from solar sources. On the other hand, almost 20% of global energy is today coming from hydroelectricity, and, in the last 20 years, hydroelectricity has grown more than 70% globally. There must be some explanation why countries and the real energy experts have chosen hydroelectricity as a potent source of energy to replace fossil fuel. In this regard, the PPP Government’s trajectory with solar and hydroelectricity is more aligned with the experts than the naysayers in Guyana.
Guyana has made solar energy a part of its menu of energy sources. Solar panels, to provide energy to hard-to-reach communities, have been a strategy for more than 25 years now. Solar farms have now become a budgeted item in Guyana’s energy development.
The Irfaan Ali-led Government has aggressively pursued the expansion of solar energy, following the footsteps of the Bharrat Jagdeo-led PPP Government between 2001 and 2011. But the PPP Government understands that solar energy cannot be the major option for replacing fossil fuel; the PPP has proclaimed a policy where solar energy is part of the energy-mix for Guyana.
Without Amaila or hydroelectricity, the dependence on fossil fuel will grow, not be reduced. With the proposed energy mix of hydroelectricity, solar electricity and gas-to-shore energy, Guyana has a good chance of reducing fossil fuel use by more than 75% by 2030. We cannot come close to this if we discard the hydroelectricity option. The real experts, whether they come from the IDB, the World Bank, or other energy-related institutions, tell us so. The problem is that energy “experts” have been sprouting here, there and everywhere in Guyana, even more than pests and weeds. Every day, these experts give us another weird and absurd reason why the Amaila Project must be discarded.
This country has talked about hydroelectricity for more than 50 years now. In fact, every country that has the potential for hydroelectricity has chosen this pathway to be at least a part of its energy needs’ solution.
Guyana is a country with remarkable hydroelectricity potential. In 1974, the PNC Government, with the then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham playing a lead role, requested the UNDP to conduct a survey of this potential. That survey revealed that Guyana has the potential for more than 7,000 MW of energy from hydroelectricity.
Similar studies have been done since then. One of those early studies identified Amaila Falls as having the best opportunity for Guyana to begin benefiting from hydroelectricity. Concrete movement towards implementing the Amaila project began, and, now more than twenty years later, we are still awaiting the start of this project.
The PNC are the last of those who should oppose hydroelectricity. In a May Day speech in 1981, President Burnham regaled the audience with the absolute need for hydroelectricity. In that famous speech, defending freezing wages and benefits for workers, Burnham asked which is more important – wage increases or hydro-power. But he upbraided the Amerindian community also for objecting to hydropower in the Upper Mazaruni Hydro-Project, which the PNC had embarked on in 1974. Seven years after the start, the PNC had already expended more than US$50M on the project.
In 1974, the PNC under Forbes Burnham, using the study by the UNDP, began preparation for the Upper Mazaruni Hydro Power Project. That year, importation cost for fossil fuel consumed more than 25% of Guyana’s total GDP, an unsustainable cost. In addition, the objective of building an aluminum smelter in Linden depended on the availability of cheap hydroelectricity. The project, as designed then, involved the flooding of Amerindian settlements. The Akawaio Amerindian settlement sternly objected, but they were ignored. In a dictatorship, the voices of the people were brazenly discarded. But the project failed to garner financial support from the lending institutions such as the IDB and WB, because of the growing concerns relating to the dictatorship and Guyana’s growing debt. In addition, Venezuela, which had good relations with America and the banks, used its influence to bar support from the banks. By 1985, the project was abandoned.
The real experts have given their support to the Amaila Project in Guyana. Government must pursue this project with greater urgency. Allowing the naysayers to dictate the trajectory of this project is working against the interest of Guyana and the Guyanese citizens. Let there be no more delays.