Offering a Different Type of Help to Light a Town

CEO offers his co-op's renewable expertise to develop a microgrid

Two girls walk home from school in Totota, Liberia. This town is known as a trading post, but it does not have access to reliable electricity. (Photo By: Noah-Friedman Rudovsky/NRECA International)

Sometimes timing is everything.

This past spring, Bill Hetherington, CEO of Bandera Electric Cooperative, reached out to NRECA International offering his help. He wanted to do more than donate funds or send volunteers on electrification projects.

Hetherington offered his Bandera, Texas-based co-op’s expertise in renewables.

“I worked for an international renewable energy company in Lisbon, Portugal,” he said in an email. “I witnessed firsthand the economic benefits gained by the community when you empower and assist them with the basic infrastructure development.”

Around that same time, NRECA International was laying the groundwork to launch a self-funded project to provide power to Totota, a small town with 6,400 residents in rural Liberia. Engineers were examining options for a robust solar-diesel hybrid microgrid power generation system that can meet the challenges of providing electricity to remote areas.

BEC offered a solution that fit the bill and was picked to join the team.

When the BEC team ran a comprehensive test of the microgrid system earlier this month, to ensure everything was operational before it gets shipped to Liberia, Dan Waddle, NRECA International senior vice president, was there to observe.

Waddle recognized the priority BEC places on being flexible and responsive to the evolving needs of its members. He likened that to the challenges NRECA International faces in evaluating and designing energy solutions for homeowners and small businesses in communities like Totota.

Bill Hetherington (left) and Dan Waddle stand with the solar panels that will travel to Liberia this fall. (Photo By: BEC)

“The team at BEC understands the challenges we face in providing reliable electricity access to remote areas in Liberia, and we’re proud to have them as partners,” said Waddle. “Engaging BEC to collaborate with us demonstrates their willingness and ability to seek innovative solutions in a changing environment to help communities.”

With the testing complete, the microgrid system is scheduled to leave Texas for Liberia in November. Later this year, Miguel Rivera, manager of BEC’s renewable energy program, known as BEC Solar, will travel to Liberia to assist in the system installation for the newly established electric co-op in Totota.

“We value the principle of improving the quality of life through electrification,” he said, “whether in Bandera or elsewhere.”