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Hydroelectric power for a good cause

The Order of the African Benedictine Sisters of St. Agnes operates a small hydroelectric power plant in Tanzania. The plant insured by Helvetia reliably supplies electricity every day to a large region with around 400,000 inhabitants.

22 August 2017, author: Jan Söntgerath, photos:

In the background the hydroelectric plant's dam, in front several local people on a mound of earth with a few bits of grass and a small stream flowing away from the wall.
The hydroelectric power plant, insured by Helvetia, reliably supplies electricity every day to a region with up to 400,000 inhabitants.

The 370 Dominican sisters live in modest circumstances in Chipole in the south-west of Tanzania in accordance with principles of self-sufficiency. They are committed to the promotion of social welfare in the country. Their order runs schools, health services, farms and an orphanage, and is highly respected. But that’s not all. The sisters also have plenty of experience in the operation and maintenance of a hydroelectric power plant. They have in fact operated such a facility to supply their own needs for around twelve years. That’s how they came into contact with the Albert Koch Foundation, which supported the power plant project. “The sisters undertake many social tasks that the state does not perform, even though it should actually be responsible for them,” says Albert Koch, explaining his motivation for getting his Foundation involved in the construction of the power plant.

Water instead of diesel

The two turbines of the new power plant each produce 2.5 megawatts of power and will be upgraded to 7.5 megawatts at some point. They cover the electricity requirements of 7,500 households – a significant achievement for a country in which only 15 percent of all households are connected to the electricity grid at all. Previously the entire region got its electricity from diesel generators. The fuel had to be transported for over 1,000 kilometres in road tankers. Now the environmentally harmful generators can be largely turned off. “After repayment of the borrowed capital, the power plant will be handed over by the Foundation to the convent. All the profit from the green electricity will then go to the Sisters of St. Agnes and enable them to finance their charitable activities,” says Albert Koch with delight.

A tradesman and a nurse standing by a turbine on which a welder is working.
The two turbines of the new power plant each produce 2.5 megawatts of power and will be upgraded to 7.5 megawatts at some point.

“Sister Act”

Some of the sisters actively helped out with the construction of the power plant. One of them is actually a trained explosives expert. For example, she deals with all the rock excavation work, the gravel preparation and the landscaping. Some of the sisters will also take a training course with the supplier of the technical equipment, so that they can then guarantee the operation of the plant on their own. Only highly specialised jobs such as the overhaul of the turbines will be carried out by third parties.

Small power plant, big impact

Thanks to the power plant, up to 400,000 people in the region will enjoy a reliable electricity supply. Even though the sum insured was modest in comparison with other projects, the idea immediately caught the imagination of the people in charge at Engineering Large and Special Risks. Helvetia underwrote the builder’s risk and building owner’s insurance for the project as well as the transport insurance. Following the successful commissioning of the power plant, Helvetia now covers approx. 50% of the operational and breakdown insurance – not least with the good cause in mind.

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