A green energy blueprint's vision, unmet in Liberia

AP News
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Posted: Jan 27, 2015 3:26 AM
A green energy blueprint's vision, unmet in Liberia

On paper, the pitch was simple.

Buchanan Renewables, a green energy company backed by the U.S. government's Overseas Private Investment Corporation, would convert Liberia to "The World's First Biomass Driven Economy."

The company's blueprint, detailed in a 15-page brochure produced in June 2011, portrayed the plan as a boon for the environment and economy.

Buchanan Renewables, a predecessor of Buchanan Renewable Energy, would salvage nonproducing rubber trees and use them as fuel to power a needy nation. Liberia would become ground zero for the global green movement; local workers and farmers would profit.

The brochure detailed the step-by-step process to bring this vision alive: felling aged rubber trees and replanting new ones; chipping and grounding trunks, roots and branches into biomass feedstock; exporting some woodchips to European utilities for co-firing with coal; using other grindings to fuel the company's planned power plant in Liberia.

"Let There Be Light," the company said in a report listing Buchanan CEO James Steele as a contact.

In Washington, OPIC was sold.

The project "will help create a new export market for Liberia while rehabilitating the country's iconic rubber industry," said OPIC's president and CEO, Elizabeth Littlefield, when the agency approved the final loan, worth $90 million, in 2011.

Yet Buchanan's vision, and the U.S. government's investment, collapsed amid a series of questionable business decisions by the company and questionable oversight by OPIC. In the end, Buchanan never built the power plant in Liberia.

On the ground in Liberia, the company dismissed 600 workers and left the country amid complaints from workers of injuries and, at times, sexual abuse.

In the end, the project's legacy is one of fields empty of trees.