What conflicts might arise?

Speeches Shim

Short Answer

Conflicts during mini-grid projects can cause delays, financial losses and failure to provide electricity. During the planning process, developers need to work closely with the community to identify possible conflicts, assess the risks and create a plan for conflict resolution. Assessing risk early can help prevent conflicts during project implementation, saving time and resources.

Transparency is critical for avoiding conflicts. Developers need to involve community members in decision making and share key information about project planning, energy services, tariffs, management and the community’s role and responsibilities. A multi-stakeholder planning process is an effective way to involve the community, anticipate problems and prevent conflict. Community engagement should continue throughout the project. This will help the project developer identify grievances as they arise and deal with them before they escalate into full-blown conflict.

Conflicts can arise within the community or between the developer and the community. The most common sources of conflict in mini-grid projects are decreased access to natural resources, unrealistic expectations, land allocation, unequal distribution of benefits and pre-existing conflicts in the community.

Further Explanation of Key Points

Decreased Access to Natural Resources

Mini-grid projects that use land, water, biomass or other local resources are prone to conflict. Local livelihoods often depend on natural resources, so communities may resist the project if it deprives them of access to critical resources. For example, hydropower projects that divert water from irrigation systems may meet with strong resistance from farmers. In addition, land and water resources are often linked to communal cultural values, and the resources might have religious significance.

Project developers using locally important resources need to understand the community’s use and honor the cultural significance of natural resources. Successful developers work with communities to either ensure continued access to resources or provide alternatives. In some cases, mini-grid developers might need to change the location of an installation or switch to a technology that does not impact key resources.

Unrealistic Expectations

Conflict arises when a project doesn’t deliver the type and level of energy services communities expect. Involving the community in the planning phase can help ensure realistic expectations. In many cases, mini-grids don’t provide the same quality of electricity services as grid-connected power. If a community expects the same services as a neighbouring community connected to the grid, they may be disappointed with the mini-grid project.

Some communities may misunderstand the role of the mini-grid project developer. They might expect developers to provide other services, such as education and health care. Effective community engagement can help prevent misunderstandings and show communities how energy services relate to larger local development goals.

Unrealistic expectations about tariffs can threaten the project’s financial viability. A community might expect to receive electricity for free. In many countries, communities are accustomed to receiving basic services from the government or international donors. In such cases, communities may be reluctant to pay for electricity.

To avoid unrealistic expectations and conflict over payment for energy services, the project developer can prepare an electricity service agreement. A service agreement is a legal document that establishes what the mini-grid developers will provide, what the community can expect in a given time period and how much the community will pay for electricity services. The project developer needs to make sure community members understand the terms of the agreement. Some customers may be illiterate, so project developers need to find alternative ways to explain the agreement. In addition, current participants will need to be able to explain the agreement to future customers. Both parties should sign the final document.

Unequal Distribution of Benefits

Mini-grid projects that benefit some community members more than others may cause conflict. For example, if only one group within the community has access to jobs created by the project, resentment may build among other community members. Similarly, if a community’s poorest members can’t afford to connect their homes to the grid, the project will fail to provide equal access to electricity.

To avoid unequal distribution of benefits, project developers can conduct prefeasibility studies that assesses a project’s potential for electricity production, economic growth and employment opportunities. Prefeasibility studies can help developers forecast a project’s benefits and create a plan to distribute those benefits fairly across the community.

Pre-existing Conflicts

In communities already embroiled in conflict, mini-grid projects are likely to face challenges. Inter-ethnic conflict, for example, may make community engagement difficult. If the mini-grid project requires resources the community is already fighting over, the developer might need to seek a different location or technology.

Communities with a history of conflict over development projects may resist incoming projects regardless of their benefits. Project developers should learn the history of development projects in the project location, assess what caused past conflicts, develop strategies for avoiding conflict and reassure communities of their commitment to avoid past mistakes.

Putting it into Practice

Conflict Assessment Worksheet for Mini-Grids

Mini-grid developers can work with communities to assess the risk of conflicts. To do this, developers need a complete list of activities associated with the mini-grid throughout the project stages. With the help of local communities, developers can then identify potential conflicts, assign a risk ranking and discuss conflict management strategies. If the assessment identifies a high risk of significant conflict, the developer might need to abandon the project. The worksheet below is a guide to conflict risk assessment.

  Activities
List all activities throughout all phases of the project (planning, ownership and operations and maintenance [O&M]).
Potential Conflicts
Identify potential conflicts associated with each activity in each phase of the project.
Conflict Risk Ranking
Assign a risk ranking (high, medium or low) to each potential conflict.
Conflict Management Strategy
Identify conflict management strategies for each potential conflict.
Planning Examples: resource mapping, energy needs assessment Examples: disagreements about resource rights, different energy priorities   Examples: clarify land tenure, plan range of energy services
Determining Ownership Example: determining who will collect tariffs Examples: tariff non-payment, failure to collect tariffs   Examples: community education campaign, training for tariff collectors
O&M Examples: power plant maintenance, repairs Examples: power outages, unclear maintenance responsibilities   Examples: maintenance contract between community and service company

Conflict Risk Ranking

This matrix helps developers rank the risk of conflict associated with specific mini-grid project activities. Developers and communities can work together to assign each activity to one of the four boxes.

  Potential for Conflict
Low High
Likelihood of Resolution
Likely Lowest Risk

These activities have a low risk of conflict, and developers are likely to be able to resolve conflicts easily.
Example: Electricity theft and vandalism. For projects with strong community support, the risk is low, and if the conflict does arise, communities and developers can resolve it through community education and outreach.

Activities in this zone have a high risk of conflict but a high potential for conflict resolution.
Example: Customers are unable or unwilling to pay electricity bills.
The likelihood of this conflict is high, but developers can mitigate the impact with good planning and community engagement.
Unlikely Activities in this zone are not likely to generate conflict, but developers are unlikely to be able to resolve conflicts if they do arise.
Example: War or political instability.
The likelihood of this type of conflict is low, but mitigating its impact would be very difficult without external support.
Highest Risk

These activities are likely to generate conflict, and it’s unlikely developers will be able to resolve the conflicts.
Example: Technical malfunctions, defects or failures. The risk of conflict is high. Without access to replacement parts, mitigating the conflict may be very difficult.

Resources

Alliance for Rural Electrification (2015). Risk Management for Mini-Grids: A New Approach to Guide Mini-Grid Deployment.
This publication analyzes different experiences with mini-grid risk assessment and risk mitigation.

Overseas Private Investment Corporation/African Development Bank Conference Report, Nairobi, Kenya (2014). Successful Community Engagement Around Energy and Infrastructure Projects in Africa.
This report describes community engagement during energy infrastructure development.

Last updated: February 14, 2018

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