Life in Aswan has changed since the start of construction of solar energy feed-in tariff projects in Benban, which has become a Mecca for investors, giving youth new hope to join the labour force and bringing about real development after years of neglect.
The solar energy projects being implemented in Benban have made this place, which has suffered from neglect for many years, a beehive. The occupancy rate in the area’s hotels, as well as the number of flights to Aswan have increased.
The current picture differed completely from the last visit by Daily News Egypt to the project’s site in July. Solar energy companies achieved great developments in all fields. Almost every house in Aswan has someone working in the Benban projects’ different sectors.
Along the way to the site, we saw advertising signs of the companies operating there. Entering through the project’s south gate, two security personnel hired by Hassan Allam Services were organising the entry and exit of cars to the site.
Security forces were deployed to secure the stations and employees, in addition to the private security that imposes stringent safety and security rules on vehicles transporting workers and workers themselves.
DNE toured the site accompanied by Hossam Allam, head of Hassan Allam Services. He said the company was able to complete all the tasks it was assigned with four weeks remaining to complete the final stage of building a wall surrounding the projects.
Allam said that organising the traffic within the site was going well, and consultations are being held with the investors and Aswan governorate to widen the main road leading to the project to avoid accidents.
He pointed out that security and safety standards are the most important concerns within any project. Guidelines were handed to all companies, contractors, and workers giving simple clear explanations to security rules in the site.
Nader Sedky, director of occupational safety at Hassan Allam Services, said that the controls set for Benban employees include their rights and duties during their presence in the project. The employees shall receive their salaries regularly, and have the right to refuse executing any task that poses any danger to their lives. They will also be provided with meals and drinking water during their shift work. A full-equipped ambulance will always be deployed on the site. The employees are expected to comply with the project’s occupational safety instructions and wear protective gear.
“It is not allowed to appoint youth below 18-years-old. There shall be no differentiation between employees based on religion, sex, or educational levels. Vehicles must also drive under 30 km/h in the site,” Sedky added.
Throughout the tour, Sedky stopped several times to ensure the prevention of any violations.
The total number of companies in Benban, including Hassan Allam Services, is 114, including 52 companies owned by Benban residents. The total number of registered workers amounted to 6,500.
Mohamed Salah, social responsibility officer at the company tasked with service management in the site, said that they held awareness sessions and discussions with residents of Benban and surrounding areas to explain the projects’ details and available employment opportunities.
Those sessions and meetings contributed to raising the awareness of Benban residents, especially that there was a state of anger and resentment among the people against the project because they thought that the project will not benefit them, and that the employees and services will be provided by companies and contractors from outside Benban, Salah added.
He noted that many of Aswan’s residents effectively contribute to solar energy projects, the latest of which was an agreement with a group of women in Benban to tailor the reflective clothing for the project’s workers, while the companies will provide the fabrics. The women will still be able to sell them to companies.
Walid El-Sayed, services management director at Hassan Allam Services, said that his company is responsible for managing the services within the project’s site, which includes traffic, waste, road maintenance, occupational safety, and securing the projects. The company’s contract will last until January 2020.
He pointed out that supervision is an essential part of the company’s work in the site, where they have to follow-up the supply of drinking water and examine it regularly to ensure it is safe for consumption. He added that strict rules are imposed on the route taken by waste water vehicles to ensure delivery to the designated area.
Hassan Allam is also responsible for the establishment of a 26 km wall around the site.
El-Sayed added that labour is one of the challenges facing the company. Based on studies, the company needs 12,000 employees, while only 6,500 employees and engineers are currently working in the site, including 4,000 from Benban and the surrounding areas.
Another challenge is the conformity of transport cars and buses with security and safety standards by installing seat belts and using new tires. This procedure was adopted upon the request of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) after its meeting with contractors last month.
We took a tour around the waste zone and were told that all waste is disposed of safely and is sometimes recycled, while hazardous waste is disposed safely and responsibly.
The area allocated for the waste includes five sites: one allocated for carton and wood; another for lubricants and oil; a third for hazardous waste; a fourth for organic waste, and a final terminal for concrete. The collected waste until now reached 400 tonnes.
El-Sayed pointed out that the company has a waste recycling plant. Organic waste is converted to fertilisers. Hazardous waste is buried in a special area in Aswan in coordination with the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), while medical waste is transported safely by a specialised company.
During his talk, I was surprised by one of the concrete mixer vehicles which was being washed. He said that previously those vehicles used to get rid of their waste randomly but they were instructed to clean the mixers on site.
IFC keen to support renewable energy projects in private sector: environment director
IFC finances 13 solar energy projects with investments of $653m
Daily News Egypt spotted the Director of Environment, Social, and Governance at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Mary Porter Peschka, on site. She confirmed that the IFC is keen to support the private sector in the field of renewable energy in Egypt.
She said that they provide technical support of the implementation of public-private partnership and create jobs for youth in the sector, as Egypt was selected by the IFC as a model for its investments in the Middle East and Africa.
Peschka praised the work system of the site, and the commitment of companies to occupational safety and preserving workers’ rights. She was following-up the commitment of companies to these standards.
She said the IFC was financing 13 solar energy companies in Benban that produce 590 MW with investments of $653m, noting that they are ready to finance more similar projects after the success of the feed-in tariff projects. “We are excited to work in the Egyptian market,” she stressed.
The first week of this month witnessed the ban of a number of vehicles and employees from entering the site for violating the safety standards.
This was quickly resolved after installing seat belts in the vehicles that transfer employees and preventing 18-year-old youths from working on the site.
28 companies execute construction of plants, projects to kick off next year
Infinity, ACWA Power in advanced stages, FAS still behind
Benban witnessed dense presence by companies, investors, and contractors working on the implementation of the solar power stations. Daily News Egypt witnessed the preparations and installation procedures for 28 of the 32 pieces designated for the establishment of the power plants to output energy of 1,432 MW.
Infinity Solar, ACWA Power, Alfanar, and Acciona have all completed most of constructions and will soon complete the stations. The first company has installed solar cells and is now preparing to link its plant’s production to the grid. The second and third companies are in advanced stages of installation of the cells, while the fourth company has completed digging and started installation procedures.
The Saudi FAS Energy is behind schedule in its works. The company is tasked with the public constructions of Sterling and Wilson Pvt. Ltd. of India. A source in the company said that the project is expected to be completed and linked to grid within two months.
The Egyptian Electric Utility and Consumer Protection Regulatory Agency (Egypt ERA) has fined FAS Energy for its delay in constructing a 50 MW plant in Benban, Aswan.
The decision includes fines of $35,000 per day beginning from August until the project’s completion.
According to the energy purchase agreement signed by the company in the first phase of the feed-in tariff projects, companies are subject to a fine of $700 per 1 MW daily if they fall behind schedule until the completion of the plant.
FAS Energy is one of two companies that signed the energy purchase agreement in the first phase of the feed-in tariff project to sell energy at 14.3 cents per 1 kW. The first company has not been able to complete the project on time, while the second company completed the project on time.
Infinity Solar’s Human Resources Director, Hisham El-Gamal, said that the company would complete the construction work of the 130 MW power plants within two months at most, and will begin linking the production to the grid and initiate operational tests in the first quarter of next year.
He pointed out that the implementation of stations is carried out in cooperation with the German IB Vogt company, which assigned the installation works to Conicon.
He explained that all officials, financing bodies, and service management companies are cooperating to remove any obstacles faced by Arab and international companies in the project site, to ensure quick response to investors’ requests in order to provide checkpoints and mobile security so as to secure the project site.
It was not different for Saudi’s ACWA Power. Hisham Saleh, marketing director of China’s Chint Company, the contractor for the company, said that they will finish the constructions of a 50 MW power plant in February, then, after three months, finish another 50 MW plant. “All projects will be working in full capacity in the first half of next year,” he added.
He explained that Chint is interested in the solar energy projects in Benban, and is ready to cooperate with the companies that have not begun constructions or preparations.
Mohamed El-Delaey, head of projects management in Desert Technologies, said that the company expects constructions and commercial operations for a 50 MW power plant to be completed and linked to grid in May 2019.
He stressed that the projects attracted Arab and international companies to invest in the renewable energy sector in Egypt, noting that a large number of investors are looking for opportunities for mergers or partnerships, or to buy shares in projects.
Medhat Ramadan, chairperson of the Egyptian German Electrical Manufacturing Company (EGMAC), said that they have completed the construction of switching substations in Benban to transfer the energy from solar power plants to the grid, where three plants have already been launched, while a fourth company will follow within days.