Suriname hydro project will not satisfy energy demand if completed, experts say

PARAMARIBO  By the time the Tapajai hydro energy project is completed, it will not be able to meet the energy demand in Suriname, experts tell de Ware Tijd. ‘At the current pace, it will take years before Tapajai becomes operational and in the meantime the demand will keep growing,’ says energy consultant Viren Ajodhia. ‘Tapajai will be a temporary solution to the increasing demand for energy.’

Ajodhia is surprised the project has not taken off yet. ‘Hydro energy is cheap, but the longer you wait the more expensive it becomes. In the meantime you have to generate energy by using very expensive diesel.’ The expert points out that Tapajai and a number of additional hydro energy projects in West Suriname had to be operational by now to meet the growing demand.                                

Hydro energy expert Lothar Boksteen, who has been involved in the project from the start, confirms Ajodhia’s conclusions.

‘Tapajai ’is an abbreviation for Tapanahoni River and Jai Creek. The project aims at increasing the water level in the Brokopondo reservoir by channeling water from the Tapanahoni River through the Jaikreek towards the reservoir. A higher water level would mean a higher output of the Afobakka hydroplant already in place. In the second phase, additional generating facilities along the river could utilize the increased flow of water to generate electricity. However, this would mean that the village Palumeu would have to be evacuated. The Tapajai project would yield an additional 60 megawatt.

Staatsolie now waits for permission to start the environmental and technical impact study, which will take 2.5 years. The company will need the cooperation of the local population, but so far nothing concrete has been promised. ‘Local communities want confirmation the government backs the project,’ says Eddy Fränkel, manager Hydro at Staatsolie.

Experts Ajodhia, Boksteen and Fränkel agree that Suriname lacks a coherent energy policy. Boksteen proposes an energy authority composed of Staatsolie, electricity company EBS and Suralco, owner of the Afobakka plant. Politicians can then make decisions based on findings by the energy authority. However, that authority is 30 years overdue. Former Minister Gregory Rusland had taken steps in the right direction by establishing the Energy Advisory commission, which advised on energy tariffs. ‘However, Rusland’s plans failed because a political opponent at EBS thwarted all his plans’, Boksteen says. 

Staatsolie manager Fränkel says that the incumbent government is trying to pick up on Rusland’s plans, but with no evident results so far.

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