Project lights up homes, businesses to improve life in Papua New Guinea

Project lights up homes, businesses to improve life in Papua New Guinea

For the first time in their lives, many rural residents of Papua New Guinea (PNG) are enjoying electricity in their homes due to a multilateral initiative involving the governments of Australia, Japan, New Zealand, PNG and the United States. By raising the percentage of the PNG population with access to electricity from 13% to 70% by 2030 at an estimated cost of U.S. $1.7 billion, the Papua New Guinea Electrification Partnership aims to raise living standards throughout the country by powering schools, hospitals, industry and homes.

The partnership was publicly unveiled at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit in November 2018 at the capital city of Port Moresby. In what many analysts interpreted as a counter to the People’s Republic of China’s One Belt, One Road development scheme, a joint statement by the partners described the efforts as “principles-based, sustainable infrastructure development” that “meets the genuine needs of the people of Papua New Guinea and avoids unsustainable debt burdens.”

Bruce Davis, Australia’s high commissioner to PNG, observed the electrification of the Tsak Valley region when he visited PNG in April 2019. His office reported that the effort in Tsak Valley is connecting 30,000 residents to an electricity grid, “delivered under PNG’s leadership” through the partnership.

The partnership announced in May 2019 that it would fund a natural gas-fueled power plant to supply electricity for the Wafi-Golpu gold mine in Morobe province, Reuters reported. Tapping into what experts describe as one of the largest sources of unmined gold in the world could make the electrified mine a leading revenue generator for PNG, producing in the range of 270,000 ounces of gold and 160,000 metric tons of copper per year.

Tetra Tech, an Australian engineering firm, recruited senior engineers, project managers and other specialists to provide technical assistance to restructure utility companies, improving their performance and making them self-sufficient. Tetra Tech identified the U.S. Agency for International Development in its recruitment literature as a project funder.

Ryan Warokra, a PNG native and lawyer at the Australian law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, told legal news service Lexology in July 2019 about the “real need for better power solutions” in PNG.

“In centers like Lae, for example, which is the industrial hub of Papua New Guinea, a lot of the businesses there have to keep their own standby power generation systems just to keep businesses going,” Warokra said. “Power interruptions are quite a common occurrence and that’s leaving aside other more remote areas where public infrastructure is lacking.”

(Pictured: Technicians install electrical infrastructure in the West New Britain province capital of Kimbe, Papua New Guinea.)
The office of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed her country’s “strong commitment” to work with its four partner nations in pooling resources and expertise to achieve the 70% electrification goal by 2030. New Zealand has already contributed over U.S. $22 million to electrification projects in PNG over the past five years, the prime minister’s office added.

“Bringing power to people who never had it before has a transformational impact on their lives and will assist Papua New Guinea to grow,” Arden said. “The lack of electricity is holding back Papua New Guineans’ ability to invest in business opportunities but also the country’s ability to develop its critical social services including health and education.”

Joseph Hammond is a FORUMcontributor reporting from Wellington, New Zealand.