Interview with Harriette Amissah-Arthur, Executive Partner at Arthur Energy Advisors
Why did you move away from the VRA into the consultancy sector? Do you have any insights on what is going on currently in the energy sector, such as the crisis and the debt, and how these issues can be affectively resolved?
My husband and I had always had a dream of establishing a family practice and this materialised with the establishment of Arthur Energy Advisors. The Volta River Authority was my first place of work but after almost twenty years working in various positions and functions, in the Akosombo and the Kpone power generating plants, in engineering design and the Transmission System Department, which is now GRIDCo, it was time to move on so I left in 2000.
My immediate reason for leaving at the time was to have a time for mine. I wanted to move into something that would allow me a little more control of my time, so that in addition to pursuing a career, I could also spend time with my family. After leaving VRA, I worked with the Kumasi Institute of Technology Energy and Environment (KITE) as a Senior Projects Manager for three years and later as the Executive Director of KITE, a position that put quite a responsibility on my shoulders. KITE gave me great exposure to development work but did not give me the control of my time that I was looking for, I was traveling so much. In 2009, I left KITE and joined Arthur Energy Advisors as the Executive Partner.
As an energy consultant working in Ghana and the Sub-region, I am quite conversant with the issues in the Sector including the crises and the Sector debt and use every assignment and interaction with sector participants as an opportunities to share my thoughts for the best way forward.
We work for both the public and the private sector. We work in Ghana as well as several countries in the Sub-Region. We work for multilateral institutions like the World Bank, KfW, public utilities and private sector investors.
What is the idea behind the establishment of Arthur Energy Advisors? How has it evolved?
Arthur Energy Advisors was established in anticipation of an increase in demand for professional advisory services. At the time the energy sectors of several African countries were going through sector reforms that were expected to prepare them for private sector participation, in most cases for the first time. We were certain that with the vast experience and local insight of our team, Arthur Energy Advisors could partner with the global players to ensure that advice given was relevant and that the Sub-region and Ghana derived optimum results from the reforms that were being undertaken.
Most of the time, when utilities would require services firms, they would use entirely expat firms. These firms had great thoughts, but were not indigenous to the region and could therefore not adequately adapt solutions to suit the context within which there were to be implemented. Our team felt strongly that some guidance was needed to ensure that local perspective were effectively incorporated in recommendations being offered. Arthur Energy Advisors was established to match global players and to partner with them to deliver optimum results for the Sub-Region. Arthur Energy Advisors has had the opportunity to work on some significant projects, many power projects but also policy work both in Ghana and the Sub-Region and we are very pleased with the progress we are making. One of the projects we were extensively involved in was the 340MW Kpone Thermal Power Plant, one of the largest project -financed IPP in Africa. The plant is expected to be commissioned in 2018.
What is the current state of the energy sector in Ghana? There is an ongoing debt, for example, which VRA and other authorities are trying to resolve.
There has been a lot of talk about what has contributed to the state of the sector today. It is clear that the sector participants have good ideas as to some things that need to be done to rectify some of the challenges facing the sector. Once again we have a unique opportunity at this time to address the root cause of the issues.
We, as a country have another chance to take a hard look at the issues that confront us, put a plan in place, and actually execute the plan. One of the reasons why some of the problems have persisted is because oftentimes, one does not get the impression that there is a coherent plan in the execution of the measures that are identified to address the issues we face.
We have a debt overhang and there are quite a few things that are being done to combat the issue, but unless we have a plan for how we ensure that we do not come back to where we are today, we will deal with the present debt overhang and then find ourselves back in the same position in a few years, no one wants that. We need a coherent plan to guide all the smaller plans to make sure that we address the situation that we are facing in a more sustainable fashion.
Is your company collaborating directly with the authorities and VRA? What is the relationship you have, if any? Who are your clients?
We work for both the public and the private sector. We work in Ghana as well as several countries in the Sub-Region. We work for multilateral institutions like the World Bank, KfW, public utilities and private sector investors. In our assignments, we ensure that we know the local environment to guarantee that our advice is effective. We do not simply do the assignments as per the literal meaning of the scope. We make sure that the discussion addresses the context and the underlining reasons why the issues exist so that if there is any advice or recommendations that are given, they go to the root of the problem.
In certain instances, we have had the opportunity to deal directly with government by being called to the table to advise. Many times, we have had the opportunity through being part of teams that have worked under the World Bank, KfW, or most recently GIZ in the last couple of years, to infuse our contributions to make sure that they help the discussion and move the sector to where it should be.
What are some of the projects you are currently working on?
We currently are the developer of a biomass power plant that will be using the waste from a shea nut processing plant. Our role is to make sure that every bit of the waste is used in the power generation and that the heat is used back in the industry to benefit the shea nut processing facility. We are also looking at power projects including renewable energy, both as a Sub-Region project and in some specific countries in the region. We are also testing some technologies in the market.
One of the things we do at Arthur Energy Advisors is to scan the global energy environment for the best practice. The technologies we are testing therefore are expected to help with addressing some of the issues that we find in our own country. We test these technologies in the local environment and context to ensure that they are fully debugged, functional and also to facilitate the acceptability to potential recipients.
What is your strategy for the company medium term, 2018 to 2019? What would you like to achieve in this time?
Renewable energy continues to be of interest in Ghana and the Sub-region. Arthur Energy Advisors believes that it is important that this interest be properly guided. We must know why Ghana or the Sub-region is interested in renewable energy and have our own clear objectives for why we want to implement it so that the selection and implementation benefits us properly.
We do not just take the idea that Europe is interested in renewable energy, bring it home, and not check whether it works for us. Renewable energy should work for our countries, but we must guide our own developments to ensure that it helps us to fulfil our goals. Another area of interest to our team is the definition of specific services suited to the needs of the power and industrial sectors across the Sub-region. Energy is not cheap in our country. We need to look at both the cost of generation, the cost of providing the service, as well as the demand side.
How are the consumers utilizing their energy and are there ways in which they can save on their cost of energy for their own operations? Therefore, we are looking at servicing both markets, the power supply side and also the demand side in doing this. Additionally, because we have worked in the Sub-region extensively, in the next two years we are looking at establishing presence in selected countries in the Sub-region. We are on track to have presence in Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal by the middle of next year.
Is there anything else you would like to add about Ghana for the business community?
Ghana is interesting for various reasons. It is one of the big sectors in the Sub-region. There is also human capital in the form of professionals in various fields when it comes to implementing projects in Ghana. Investors coming here will find experienced people to work with.
At firms like Arthur Energy, one of the things we pride ourselves in doing is working with the investors. We know our markets are still in the development stage and there are quite a few things that are not straightforward, but it offers the opportunity to walk with the investors through the space so they are not completely overwhelmed. It also allows for the processing of the ideas, packaging them for acceptability for the markets so that it is rightfully situated in the local context. This is because the investors do not know the people, the sector but we do. Our team is here to ensure that the investors do not get frightened by the enormity of the challenges at the onset, we help break things into packages and projects and point the investors to the opportunities inherent in them.
We worked with the developer of the 340MW Kpone Thermal Power Plant, one of the largest project-financed IPPs in Africa. We were one of the key advisors on the project right through to financial close. Arthur Energy Advisors also singlehandedly wrote the Ghana grid code which has been in operation since 2007. We also were the sole advisory services company that wrote the Emergency Power Security Plan for the ECOWAS Sub-region.
We have worked on a number of multi-country and cross-border power projects for WAPP for financing by international agencies that have been implemented, and some of them continue to be considered. This is just to demonstrate that there are a lot of opportunities in our part of the world. Ghana and the Sub-region have a lot of room for development because there is much that needs to be done for the region to take its proper place. That can be seen as a challenge or an opportunity. From where we sit, it is an opportunity for investors who are interested to come and take a good look, with help from indigenous companies like us, they can invest in our region. They are extremely welcome.
You are very active in supporting young people that have potential and you are also a mentor. You are also a successful woman in a man’s world, which is not very easy. What is your message for young women that would like to start their own business?
My message is to first decide what you want to do. Whether you are a man or a woman, there always will be distractions, but you must have a mission. Do not pay attention to the comments on the side and move on. When I first joined VRA, I was actually the first woman to have worked in the powerhouses there. When I studied engineering at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, I was the first female Ghanaian electrical engineer who was trained in that university. At the time, there were no female washrooms. But you will find that, the same way that there are people of the opposite sex who may not promote your cause, there are also people who are extremely supportive because they notice that you are alone in a man’s world.
I do not even consider it that much of a man’s world anymore because there are many women who are making inroads into this field. It is not a man’s world, it is a world. Engineering, like many other things that women are breaking frontiers to do today, continues to be one more option that every woman can consider. One of the things I am passionate about is that young ladies will consider some of those professions that are considered as a man’s world as an option. At least consider it, examine it, and decide whether it is something of interest to you.
I do not advocate ladies going into these so-called male-dominated professions just because they want to prove their point. Nobody is proving a point. Do what you love and what you want to do and just go for it. I love where I am because at the end of the day, engineering, like many professions, equips you with a way of thinking. It is a way of thinking and if that is the case, why should we not avail ourselves of the opportunity to be able to think from an engineering perspective? I am in love with young people because I have two adult sons. One of them is married and that means I have a daughter now, as well.
I believe in people taking their destinies into their own hands and determining what it is that they want and going for it. That is why I like young people. I do not want young people seeing themselves as victims. At Arthur Energy Advisors, as part of our Corporate Social Responsibilities, we invest in initiatives that mentor the youth. We are currently working on a project where we are tapping into the experienced technical manpower in our region for the benefits of our economies. In our part of the world, people above 50 are already planning their retirement. When people say they are retiring, they really retire. They just stop what they are doing and go and sit at home. But, this is the time when these people would have really amassed so much experience that is valuable to their countries.
Therefore, we are undertaking this project to make sure that they know that professionals above 50 can continue to be productive contributors to their societies without undue stress whilst they continue to earn a descent living. Under this initiative we will create an environment where these experienced professionals can feel comfortable and have the flexibility to work. At the same time and in that space, we bring the young and the old together and have these experienced people mentor the youth. We live in a society and we will always have the young and the old. We must look at how we work together so that we derive maximum benefit for our societies.