Batokunku pays 75 % less for electricity than all country

As Gambians continue to pay one of the highest electricity tariffs in the world

By Sanna Camara                             Photos: Eva Viegas

Situated between Tanjeh and Tujereng villages in the West Coast Region along the Atlantic coast, Batokunku villagers are paying 25 percent of the normal household electricity tariff being charged by the state energy supplier.

This means that for every kilowatt consumed in an hour, Batkunku villagers pay 2 Dalasis, against a 9.1 Dalasi fee the rest of the country pays for the same kilowatt.  This price per kilo watt hour for the local citizens of the village was set by the Electricity Management Committee constituted by the villagers, said Peter Weissferdt, the wind power project consultant, now residing in the village.

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In 1999, Mr. Weissferdt  and his wife Gitta who had been regular visitors to The Gambia for 30 years, had the idea of using wind power to supply water and electricity to a small village in The Gambia. This location, Weissferdt said, “would ultimately be located close to the ocean and of small scale.” The Government selecting the village of Batokunku for this project, he added.

The object of this project, according to Peter Weissferdt, was to supply water and electricity to the villagers for a very low price, since only few families would have the necessary financial resources to pay for the expensive electricity supplied by the public utility. As part of this project, all houses were planned to be equipped with an electric power system, sockets and energy saving bulbs.

Electricity was more than 25km away

“At that time it was not known if the village would ever be connected to the NAWEC public electricity supply system, which was more than 25km away.  The project was therefore conceived as an ‘isolated network’, to be operated using two 10 kW wind turbine installations, together with a storage battery and inverter,” he explained.

After D6million investment and five years of operation, the village’s over 2,000 inhabitants, some 600 of whom live in the village center, use 90, 000 to 100, 000kwh/year electricity being produced by the windmill. This represents 80 per cent of the total production, while the 20 percent is sold a surplus to National Water and Electricity Company (NAWEC).

The turbines, used in Denmark for 10 years, were dismantled, packed, and shipped to The Gambia for this project. Re-assembled and a four-pillar steel frame over 5 meters high, mounted to a 4-meter concrete base.

Community participated

“A contract was concluded with the village community, under the terms of which the necessary works were to be completed by the villagers themselves, in so far as possible. Digging trenches, laying cable and water pipes, helping to install house wiring and building the Wind Converters foundation,” Peter explained.

Work had progressed to the extent that this project would be fully completed by the end of 2004, and the entire installation would have been ready for operation. But it would not have been finished until the beginning of 2009, he added.

In 2009, the wind power produces 150kw capacity, while the average load of the village was at 25 to 30 kWh. This is below 50 percent of the total output. However, today, there is expansion of settlements.

Highest electricity tariffs in the world?

Meanwhile, development partners are expressing concern about the electricity tariffs Gambians pay, describing it as one of the highest in the world.

European Union (EU) programme manager Sylvain Lequere, has said the rate at which consumers continue to pay for electricity in The Gambia is among the highest in the world. “Gambians pay one of highest price for electricity in the world, thus limiting again the access to energy for the population,” he said.

The country’s energy system is currently dealing with major constraints such as ageing power plants, inefficient transmission and distribution system.

“This is also limiting the development of the privates sector in the country,” he argued, noting that hike in oil price may lead to further electricity cost improvement in Gambia.

“The consequences of these constraints have gravely resulted in low access to electricity for majority of Gambians. Only 35% of the country’s 1.8 million have access to power, of which only 6% is for the up-country,” he said.

Impact on the social life of the village

Since the electricity and the water system has put more than 10 public taps under local operation – against only 1 hand pump for the entire village before the project – the social live in the village has dramatically improved.

“The young people like to stay in the village now… three tailoring shops are in operation. There is a new local cinema and shops with air conditioned facilities. It is now possible to store food in deep freezers and naturally TV, Internet and mobile telephones have come to the village. In addition the village’s fisherman now have cooling facilities, so fresh fish can be offered,” said Alhaji Fafa Jatta, the village head.

A lot of people are also coming to buy land to reside in the village. “Currently, the village’s reserved land has all been sold out. Villagers are nw selling out the bits of their reserved farmlands to new settlers,” the 75-year-old Alkali said.

‘These are sustainability costs’

“A meter is attached to each house in the village to record the wattage each household consumes. This is measured in relation to water supply, which are all delivered through underground pipes and cables. This is the distribution network of the village,” explained Ebrima Touray, head of the village’s management committee.

At first, he said the philanthropist, Peter Weissferdt wanted the services to be provided free of charge. However, the villagers, for sustainability reasons, decided to come up with this scheme to charge small tariffs which could take care of maintenance and other costs, Touray explained.

The surplus income from the windmills’ energy sales to NAWEC and existence of “high tariff” consumers provided enough financial resources to build a market hall, which now allows women to offer their vegetables grown in the gardens with the water supplied free of charge, Peter earlier had said.

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