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Janiuay Micro Hydro [Panay Island, Philippines]

posted Apr 11, 2012, 3:03 PM by Thomas Geissmann   [ updated May 18, 2012, 3:14 PM ]
(2011 - August 3)
Blogger: Jun Baclay
It is a village about 4 km upstream of a winding river. It takes about 2 hours walk, with several crossings on this same river. You need to be alert against incoming floods from the mountains, especially during rainy season. Along the way, you pass by a stretch of river where both banks are steep walls of rock. It really tests your will to proceed. The knee deep water is very cold, and the current is strong.
But after two hours, one finds relief as the village lies on the foot hills of forested mountains... a beautiful scenery and mountain air sweet and non-polluted. To us, we thought of the visit as a "detoxifying" experience, meaning, after months of breathing city air, one gets to taste air that smell of leaves and trees. 
The micro-hydro power station just lies below the village center. The generator is working. The turbine (a francis, made in China) looked very strong. Except the diversion weir. It's a sad sight. Rubbles and gravels have accumulated on the weir, as if the whole section of river had been "reclaimed". Why this neglect? Why are people not doing something to maintain the weir and remove the gravel? 
The above situation underscores the difficulty of motivating people to "do something". In reality, the social or organizing people component is really the most difficult part in a rural energy project. The technical aspect is the easiest part. Entering a village for the first time, one doesn't know the politics and conflicts within. In the rural areas, traditional politics rules. Villages are usually made up of two clashing groups of people: they fought it out during an election. The defeated candidate is usually the leader of the People's organization which manages and operates a renewable energy system. Both intends to serve the people in the village. Yet each perceives the other as an opponent. Even years after an election, the animosity remains. 
That is why many rural electrification projects fail. There is no unity in the village. People don't cooperate. Level of trust is very low. Nevertheless, successful cases exist, but these are extremely rare. Success in rural electrification are usually achieved when: 
  • The village has a local champion, a person who believes in the project and sees to it, assures that things get done to finish and sustains it. 
  • The local government unit extends support [both non-financial and financial] to the project. The most important support is the assignment of qualified staff to monitor and inspect the site regularly [say monthly] and "blend" with the villagers and provide advise to village leaders. 
  • Tariff is set with due consideration to the capacity and willingness to pay. One should add our new concept, "capacity to sustain". After observing so many failed projects [i.e. solar battery charging stations], I and Engr. William Hong suggested the term "capacity to sustain" and "willingness to maintain" as important requirements for long-term project success. This approach considers the project as a whole, until the time comes to replace the major components. At such time, if the village organization could replace failed components at their own effort, then we can say that this organization has the "capacity to sustain" the project. 
In conclusion, the most important lesson learned in this visit is for project implementers to give more importance to social preparation. The approach must consider the internal conflicts and politics in the village.
Each village is unique. If you succeed in organizing one village, don't expect your method would succeed in another. But the underlying principles remain. On the technical side, a sustainable rural electrification project should, as Dr. Shiota argues, a) be properly designed; b) be properly installed; c) have proper components; and d) properly maintained. On the social side, the village must be properly organized. One day organizing missions are generally not enough. Regular visits or meetings with the villagers, part of the Social Preparation, should be conducted. This must be taken into account in the project preparation and planning .... and budget. 
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