* Country seeks to renew neglected energy infrastructure
* Domestic and export power demand on the rise
By Loucoumane Coulibaly
YAMOUSSOUKRO, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast aims to boost electricity output by around 80 percent over the next six years to satisfy growing domestic and regional power demand, the minister of mines and energy said on Friday.
The West African nation, the world’s top cocoa producer, is investing heavily in power production as part of a plan to spur economic development after a decade-long political crisis that ended in a war last year.
“Our country sees itself becoming the energy exchange for the sub-region ... We will increase currently installed capacity by 80 percent, or around 1,100 additional MW, over the next six years,” Adama Toungara told an energy conference.
The government signed a deal with London-listed short-term power supplier Aggreko on the sidelines of the meeting in the capital Yamoussoukro to provide 100 MW of electricity to the grid for the next two years.
Ivory Coast has an enviably reliable power supply by regional standards and already exports electricity to Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin, Togo and Mali. It also has plans to connect Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone to its grid.
However, its infrastructure is still vulnerable to politically-motivated violence. The manager of one of the country’s main power plants said on Friday it had been repaired after an armed raid slashed its capacity by half last month.
In order to contain costs, Ivory Coast is planning to boost output from hydroelectric plants to 45 percent of total production from 30 percent currently.
“Exported power needs will reach 350 MW in 2017 ... The mining sector, which will be a major contributor to economic growth ... will for its part require 500 MW by 2020,” Toungara said.
Plans to build a 275-megawatt hydro power station in the cocoa-producing but underdeveloped west with a $556 million low-interest loan from China’s Export-Import Bank will be finalised by the end of the year, Toungara said.
The Oct. 15 attack on the Azito thermal station in Abidjan, run by a subsidiary of UK-based electricity provider Globeleq, was the first to target high-profile infrastructure.
Dozens of gunmen attacked the power plant, causing damage that forced the shutdown of one of its two turbines, each of which are responsible for around 15 percent of the country’s power output.
“The turbine was repaired by our services. It is now operational ... We were down by 150 megawatts after the attack, but that is now available again,” manager Luc Aye said.
The armed attacks began in August and have been blamed on supporters of former president Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to accept defeat in late 2010 polls led to last year’s brief civil war.
“Security has been reinforced. Gendarmes and police have been deployed to guard the plant. And as a private operator, we have put in place extra security measures, including camera surveillance,” Aye said.
Aye said the attacks would not derail plans to expand Azito’s capacity from 300 to 430 megawatts.
“The cost of the project is around 210 billion CFA francs ($410 million). We signed financing agreements with donors in Paris on Oct. 18. Work will start in the first quarter of 2013 and finish the end of 2014 or early 2015,” he said.