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Friday, August 3, 2012

Timaru firms win contract

MEGAN MILLER

Last updated 05:00 03/08/2012

Two Timaru-based companies will spearhead an $18.6 million government venture to build an off-the-grid power supply in Bamiyan City, Afghanistan.

The end goal of the Bamiyan Renewable Energy Project will be providing electricity to 2490 households in several suburbs of Bamiyan City.

The area, about 150km west of Kabul, has been home to a New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team base since 2003.

The partnership of NetCon, a Washdyke-based subsidiary of Alpine Energy, and Sustainable Energy Services International won the contract to construct a hybrid solar-and-diesel power facility, despite competition from other companies around the world.

It was not a question of upgrading or improving an existing power source, NetCon general manager Ross Sinclair said. Instead, it was about generating electricity for communities that currently had no electricity at all.

As a result, a large portion of the project would be building not only the power station itself, but also the infrastructure - "the poles and wires", as he put it - to conduct the electricity to each potential customer. And that would likely prove to be the easy part.

"If it was just about building stuff, we can do that all day," SESI general manager Tony Woods said.

"We will need to leave Bamiyan with a trained management, maintenance and support structure so the network can continue to survive in the long term.

"It's as much about training and capacity building as it is about investing in technology," Mr Woods said.

The project was expected to require at least 12 months, and would be completed by a team of about 10 international staff - mostly Kiwis - working with 15 trained Afghan engineers and about 30 tradesmen and labourers from nearby villages.

The project, under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, would be funded through the international aid and development programme.

The Timaru companies were not awarded the contract because of their Kiwi connections, Mr Woods said, but because they offered experience working in Afghanistan and expertise in all stages of completing necessary tasks.

Mr Woods has worked on energy projects in the Middle East for many years, and heads an Afghanistan-based subsidiary of SESI, Sustainable Energy Services Afghanistan.

SESA has previously worked on projects including installing solar-powered streetlights in Kabul and a smaller solar project in the Gardez area.

On the other hand, this will be NetCon's first foray into overseas work. But the company could provide considerable managerial expertise in engineering, human resources and health and safety, Mr Sinclair said.

NetCon handles electrical work including overhead, underground and earthing services. Some of its local projects include substation construction in Timaru and aerial construction at Rangitata.

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