In such challenging times, impacts and delays from the pandemic are unravelling infrastructure construction all over the world. But one renewable energy project, affectionally known as ‘Tina’, is giving hope to an entire nation. After a decade of struggles, June 2021 will be remembered as a significant month for the Tina River Hydropower Development Project and the Solomon Islands, with construction officially commencing on the US$240 million renewable energy project, located approximately 26km outside the capital city Honiara.

For more than a decade, Tina has forged ahead despite ongoing obstacles and hurdles. From the early days of meandering through complicated land acquisition processes, to securing ongoing funding, this renewable energy project has stood the test of time. The will of the Solomon Islands Government, along with the many lenders and donors supporting its vision to build a renewable and sustainable future, is very commendable.

Big ask

Delivering a project of this magnitude was already a big ask for a small developing nation. Add into the mix an unprecedented global pandemic, the recent milestone of construction starting is even more monumental. In June, the final hurdles were overcome with the much-anticipated approval of the Construction Environmental and Social Safeguard Management Plans (ESMPs), giving the ‘green light’ for the construction of the Lot 1 access road to begin. Within the week, another significant milestone was reached with the signing of a finance agreement by the Australian Government worth USD$22.9 million to fund the 66KV transmission system component of the project.

“It has been a difficult decade for Tina, but we have never given up,” says Solomon Island Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. “We have, with the guidance of our experienced lenders and partners, taken no shortcuts or left anything to chance. Each part of this project has been well planned to ensure the future prosperity of our nation.”

Green light for construction

One of the final major hurdles overcome for the project has been in finalising the ESMPs. Although lengthy, the process of reviewing and fine-tuning detailed plans, led by Tina Hydro Limited (the holding company that owns and operates the infrastructure), the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification Project team, lenders and global experts had formed an integral part of the planning phase for the project. Like many other infrastructure schemes around the world, ESMPs are required to ensure appropriate measures are in place to minimise and mitigate adverse construction and operational impacts of projects on people and the environment.

Local benefits

At the end of June, the engineering, procurement and construction contractor, Hyundai Engineering Company (HEC) with its team of expats on the ground and a local labour force, began turning soil on Lot 1 of access road. This work is broken into two parts to create access to the hydro power facility site for construction and then provide ongoing access to the facility once commercial operation of the scheme commences. The access road is co-funded by the Australian Government and Green Climate Fund at a cost of US $26 Million. Construction will include upgrade of the existing 13.2km road which makes up Lot 1 and Lot 2 which is 5.5km of green field road through a steep terrain that leads to the dam and power station.

Along with providing essential access, this initial construction will also bring benefits to the local community. These early benefits include work opportunities and the ability to be trained to learn new labour skills, improve infrastructure for the catchment communities and other economic activities which will bring income to the area.

Australian backing

In the same week, another major milestone was achieved with the announcement of funding support from the Australian Government to the tune of USD$22.9 million for the Tina River Hydropower Transmission System.

The transmission system funding has been made possible through a partnership between the newly created Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific (AIFFP) and the Solomon Islands Electricity Authority. The system, anticipated to be completed in 2023, includes a 22km transmission line to connect the Tina River Hydropower site to the electricity grid. The final system will have a transmission capacity of 15MW, equivalent to the generating capacity of the Tina project and is expected to deliver 70 to 80% of Honiara’s electricity demand.

Australia has been an enduring partner with the Solomon Islands in the development and implementation of this project. In addition to the AIFFP financing for the transmission system, Australia has already contributed millions of dollars to Tina in recognition of the positive economic and environmental benefits this project would bring to Solomon Islands. 

Australian High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands, Dr Lachlan Strahan said: “Australia is a proud supporter and longstanding partner in the Tina River Hydropower Development Project. Once completed, this nation-building project will provide more reliable, affordable and environmentally friendly electricity for Solomon Islanders, and demonstrate Solomon Islands’ ability to deliver large scale public private partnerships.” 

“Renewable energy is a critical part of our collective response to combating climate change,” he goes on to say. “Once it is operational, Tina River will be making its own important contribution to keeping emissions down.”

Power to the people

While construction excitement is now the talk of the town, in the background a team of experts is working tirelessly to achieve one of the project’s main aspirations; to give back to the catchment communities through a Community Benefit Sharing Project (CBSP). This unique programme is designed to enhance the positive impacts to the communities in the project area by the investment in basic services and infrastructure and to foster support and cooperation by the communities towards the success of the project.

Operational in the communities for the past two years, the programme has adopted an innovative approach to benefit-sharing which provide a stream of benefits to the project host communities for the lifetime of the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) and beyond. An example of the early benefit sharing success can be seen in the current pre-employment training of over 300 people, who are eligible individuals of the benefit-sharing area. This programme has been designed to support members of communities in the project area to access employment opportunities created by Tina during and after construction. At the halfway mark after six successful training sessions, 128 people have graduated with opportunities as a result of the training.

Green recovery

With construction starting on Lot 1 access road, it’s time to focus on how Tina will contribute to the green recovery for this developing country. As the Solomon Islands’ first large-scale infrastructure project to be developed under a public-private partnership, its success is a key component in the next stage of economic security for the country. Furthermore, the project will help the Solomon Islands to transition away from diesel-powered energy, strengthen energy security, and support the Solomon Islands contribution towards international efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

With the project now in its construction phase, the Solomon Islands Government remains committed to the long-term future of delivering affordable renewable energy to the country and its people.