Peat-to-power expert all fired up
Pat Treanor: "Not a week goes by but various ministers and even the president are making inquiries as to its progress." photograph: fionn mccann
WILD GEESE:Pat Treanor, energy consultant, Rwanda
Growing up in Mullaghbawn, a small country town in south Armagh, Pat Treanor was regularly despatched to neighbours to sort out their mechanical problems. “I was always interested in machinery,” he says.
A qualified mechanical engineer, who graduated from Queen’s in 1970, he worked with the ESB for 36 years before retiring in 2007. Today he is masterminding in Rwanda what will be Africa’s first peat-to-power electricity station.
“The eyes of Africa will be on this plant,” he says when we met in the capital, Kigali, where he works as an adviser for Eswa, the energy, water and sanitation authority.
Work started last week on the construction of the €22 million, state-owned, 15 megawatt plant in Rusizi, a four-hour journey from Kigali. When finished in February next year, its main customer will be the largest cement factory in the country. The rest of the energy will feed into the national grid.
Treanor explains that Rwanda is estimated to have about 150 million tonnes of dry peat and that, in terms of expertise, the Irish and the Finns are foremost when it comes to industrial use “though Finland’s peat quality is not as deep or as good as Ireland’s”, he says.
Currently Rwanda depends on diesel, which is expensive, for electricity generation. Sixteen per cent of the population have access to electricity, the main bulk of which is used in Kigali, where a tenth of the 11.7 million population reside.
The plan is to increase electricity coverage to 20 per cent by 2017. Last year, the government signed a controversial €220 million power purchase agreement with a Turkish company to build a huge 100 megawatt plant in another district.
According to Treanor, “this will mean harvesting peat from a wet bog area and will involve banking the river and I am not aware of anywhere in the world where peat can be harvested wet. I think it better to build smaller plants around the country, identify the bogs and make sure that the quality and quantity of peat is correct,” he says.
As an expert on peat-to-power generation, Treanor has had a long and distinguished career with the ESB. Starting in Dublin after college at its Pigeonhouse Road training school, he spent his first decade as a shift engineer, first in Bellacorick in Mayo then back in the midlands as a station manager.
Later he played a major leadership role in the development of the two new plants in Lanesboro and Ferbane. Two years after the plants came into operation in early 2005, he retired. “I felt I had achieved everything I had wanted to achieve in ESB,” he says.
After retirement, he was asked to go to South Africa for a month to coordinate technical designs for eight power stations fuelled by diesel oil for Eskom, the state electricity company. It wasn’t his first time in Africa. In the 1990s, he volunteered to show locals in Nigeria how to operate a plant, but the project collapsed when the World Bank withdrew sponsorship.
Then in late 2011 he was asked if he would be interested in a programme in Rwanda on a two-year contract. “They wanted someone with experience of peat-to-power generation,” he says.
Since then he’s been back and forth from Kigali to his home and family in Mullingar.
This week, he brings four high ranking members of Eswa from Rwanda for a week’s visit to see the Irish power stations in operation. “I would like them to see what happens on a day-to-day basis in a power plant. The initial impact will be the size and scope of the plants and they will learn about procedures,” he says.
In the meantime there is much excitement and plenty of talk about the project in Rwanda. “Not a week goes by but various ministers and even the president are making inquiries as to its progress.”
* Deirdre McQuillan acknowledges the support of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund