Levy Richemond is the chick hatchling king of Haiti, and it’s all because of electricity. About 900,000 fluffy yellow chicks emerge each year from Richemond’s two giant incubators, which must be kept at 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit for the fertilized eggs to hatch. Every three days, customers from throughout Haiti come to the Caracol-based business to buy chicks, which they raise and sell to restaurants.
“The main reason why we chose this location was because of the 24/7 electricity,” says Richemond, whose hatchery is the nation’s largest. “We could not exist without it.”
The facility, which employs 24 people and plans to double its workforce, is just one of many entrepreneurial endeavors made possible by the only power plant in Haiti that provides round-the-clock electricity.
Located in Caracol in northern Haiti near the border with the Dominican Republic, the 10-megawatt facility runs on diesel and heavy fuel oil. It serves almost 14,000 customers, including the Caracol Industrial Park, which houses large garment factories and other businesses that employ about 15,000 Haitians.
When three days of heavy rains caused massive flooding that disrupted power in January of this year, the PPSELD team worked nonstop to dry out equipment, remove sand and restore power in less than a week.
In contrast, the Haitian government-owned utility, EDH, supplies just nine hours or less of electricity per day on most of its circuits, according to the World Bank. Only about a quarter of the nation’s residents have access to electricity, and many rely on costly, inefficient generators, according to USAID.
NRECA International was originally scheduled to leave Haiti in 2017 when its initial four-year contract with USAID was completed, but it agreed to several extensions to give the Haitian government more time to find a private investor to take over operation of the utility. NRECA International is now scheduled to leave in July 2023.
“I would like to leave this project in the hands of someone who guarantees its continuity,” Mercado says. “The electric service will last forever if they maintain the utility. After nine years of service, it would be very sad if they couldn’t continue.”
'The difference is very clear'
The PPSELD project has had an undeniable impact on the lives of the people it serves.
The electricity supplied by the utility has saved precious dollars at the CENEFCO Clinic in the bustling town of Trou du Nord, freeing up funds to be used for patient care, says Dr. Jean Clervan Dorsainvil, the clinic’s founder.
“When NRECA International opened its plant here, we had already opened, using our own generator,” the doctor says. “Back then, we would spend about $1,500 a month for just 40 hours of power using the generator. Once NRECA International brought in 24-hour electricity, we spent less than $1,000 a month for 24/7 power.”
It has spurred some Haitians to move from other parts of the country to the towns and villages served by PPSELD and inspired others to return home to the region.
Mayor Cacius Marseille of Sainte-Suzanne says he has even seen people come back to the remote mountain village after immigrating to other countries.
“Electricity is the motivation,” he says. “People are coming back and building homes here because of the electricity.”
Virgeline Valcenord returned to Haiti from the Dominican Republic after friends told her that electricity and water had come to the pastel-painted village of Ekam. She has invested in an electric freezer, which she uses to sell fish and ice cream.
“Electricity is so important for the people,” says Valcenord, the mother of a 9-year-old daughter. “Without electricity, I couldn’t have this business. … I feel like when I see the places that have electricity, people have less fear. They can go out at night, have parties.”
The sense of security that electricity brings is also important to Kattiana Osias, a law student who works in Cap-Haïtien but moved about an hour away to Ekam with her husband for the electricity. The much larger city of Cap-Haïtien is outside the service territory of PPSELD and has spotty power at best.
Osias often takes public transportation back and forth to her government job and welcomes the streetlights that greet her when she returns home at night.
“Electricity helps women a lot,” she says. “When it’s dark, the women are very exposed to crime. The streetlights are the best thing as a deterrent.”
When she was planning her wedding two years ago, Osias began looking for a place with water and electricity where she could plug in a fan to cool the bedroom.
“My husband and I saw this house and thought, ‘Why don’t we come here to live?’ Everyone is comfortable,” she says. “I have friends in Cap-Haïtien who want to come, but it is very difficult to find a house here right now.”
Electricity provided by the PPSELD plant has also created a new social scene after dark in the nearby town of Limonade. Residents crowd the well-lit public park to watch soccer on a huge screen, cheering their favorite team. Entrepreneurs sell cold drinks to the crowd as children play and friends gather on sidewalks to talk. A barber cuts his customers’ hair inside a brightly lit shop. And a neon sign attached to the front of a traditional blue-and-white church advertises Sunday Mass.
The electricity also powers the laptop of Walnex Elma, a 24-year-old college student who attends the University of Haiti’s Limonade campus and will soon graduate with a degree in psychology.
When he was younger, Elma had to study by candlelight and hope that the power from his laptop battery didn’t run out.
“Once we got electricity, my friends would come over to my house to study,” he says. “I do a lot of research on the computer, and I rely on the electricity. I’m performing better in my studies.”
'We promised, we delivered'
While the benefits of reliable power are now clear to most residents, many people initially balked at having to pay for power in a country where politicians often promise free electricity, Mercado says.
“At first, they didn’t see us as friends,” he says.
Electricity theft was rampant in the beginning, prompting NRECA International to launch an education campaign to explain that the money was being used to supply power, not to enrich some remote, for-profit company. Losses from theft have plummeted from about 55% in 2013 to about 12% today, Mercado says.
Any new investor that comes in to take over operation of the plant next year will benefit from the dramatic reduction in theft and the newfound appreciation for dependable power, Mercado says. Finding people willing to invest in the politically volatile nation is always a challenge, but there has been interest from institutions in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, he says.
Investors would also take over a utility with about 100 well-trained Haitian employees who could help keep things running smoothly, Mercado says.
One of those employees is Fritz Thony Brutus Jr., the utility’s commercial manager and an electricity evangelist who believes strongly in the benefits that power has brought to his community. Brutus lives among his customers in Ekam, where he and his wife are raising their two daughters, ages 5 and 2.
“Most of the people know what it’s like to live in darkness,” he says. “The daily lives of each one of our customers has been improved a lot. … The value of goods is rising; land values are increasing. There has been 30 times more employment created in the area. And it’s all because of electricity.”
Brutus and his wife recently opened a small open-air café on the edge of Ekam, selling drinks to people who drop by after work to enjoy the cool evening breeze. The café beckons customers with twinkling electric lights.
“I want for my children to have a better life with electricity, a life that my parents and I didn’t have,” he says. “And that future starts now.”
Editor’s note: NRECA International is a separate legal entity.