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New Electrification Program to Invest Over 12 Billion in New Energy Africa Energy Deal

By Neil Ford

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has unveiled its new electrification program, under which it will invest 12 billion dollars over the next five years.

The funds will support its New Deal on Energy for Africa, which aims to achieve universal access to electricity in Africa by 2025. The plan was born out of the Energy Week conference held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire at the end of March, which brought stakeholders together to discuss methods of improving energy access.

Until relatively recently, the AfDB and other organizations regarded off-grid power provision as a stop-gap measure, designed to provide electricity to people until their homes were connected to the grid; however, the global boom in renewable energy technologies and the growing attraction of energy self-sufficiency in the West has changed the way the concept is viewed. The process is likely to accelerate when battery storage becomes cheaper and more efficient.

The scale of the off-grid ambition is demonstrated by the fact that the Bank has set a target of providing “decentralised solar technologies” – in other words, off-grid solar PV – to 75m households and businesses over the next five years. The change of heart is largely a function of the falling cost of off-grid solar [link to the piece I wrote on this previously, in relation to West Africa]. On-grid electrification has been a very slow process and the AfDB has recognised that off-grid solar PV kits are proving far more effective.

At present, solar panels, batteries and other components are manufactured elsewhere in the world, predominantly in Asia. They are imported in Africa, mainly in East Africa, by companies who sell them on to customers. Small weekly or monthly payments are made, often by mobile phone, until the solar kit is paid off.

It is likely to sound like a gross exaggeration to many readers, but it seems likely that almost all Africans will have access to electricity within the next decade.  This is because individual solar PV kits in East Africa are now as cheap as kerosene as a source of energy. They will not yet provide sufficient electricity to power the appliances to give a Western-style standard of living, but the cost of fridges, washing machines and other appliances is still out of the reach of most African families in any case. Yet they will provide enough energy for electric light and the ability to charge mobile phones.  It is often argued that the first kilowatt-hour is the most important.

AfDB president Akinwumi Adesina said: “Africa’s energy potential is as enormous as its electricity deficit. We must move quickly to unlock this energy potential. We must be smart, efficient, sustainable and quick in our actions…Although we can employ a mix of approaches, off-grid solutions must be at the core of our approach to achieve the ambitious electricity access targets that we have set.”

Bright Future

The AfDB is keen to see decentralised solar PV take off in the rest of the continent, beyond East Africa, and is keen to use its financial muscle to support long-term integrated planning and hedging tools to mitigate foreign exchange risks. It can also play a role in encouraging skills development and in the longer term possibly also component manufacturing within Africa.

Yet the private sector has taken the lead on off-grid electrification to date, so the process will take place with or without large-scale financing because of the economics of the technology. Looking further ahead, there will be increasing pressure to integrate on- and off-grid power provision so that people with multiple solar panels can sell electricity to others, as well as tapping into grid supplies when they need more power, or require back-up.

The big question is whether this process will be centred on national grids or far more localised mini-grids, perhaps covering just single villages. This issue was discussed in meetings on the sidelines of Energy Week but will surely become a more central concern in the future. The latter seems more likely in the short term, but in the long term the former may become more important, turning power utilities into infrastructure operators and power trading platforms more than generators in their own right.

 

First National Real Dads Read Day Set for June 9

It wasn’t too long ago that Fathers Incorporated, a leading national nonprofit for the promotion of Responsible Fatherhood, launched its new initiative, Real Dads Read (RDR), in Atlanta, GA. The initial project objective was to create literacy centers in barbershops with the goal of encouraging father-child involvement through reading and improving literacy for young children. Today, with help from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, RDR has established 26 libraries in barbershops around metro Atlanta and 9 in Columbus, GA. In addition, 45 barbershops and partners engaged in a citywide book drive, collecting 2,245 books, which included a large donation from the Atlanta Chapter of Omega Psi Phi.

“We are encouraged that so many organizations have come on board to celebrate and support the effort of Real Dads Read,” says Kenneth Braswell, Executive Director of Fathers Incorporated. “The inquires to bring the project to other cities around the country are overwhelming. We have had to temper the excitement because we are still building our capacity to meet the tremendous need and requests for RDR,” Braswell continues. “Fathers Incorporated is now working on building the RDR infrastructure to support broader and more intentional programmatic activities.” Currently, RDR has a pilot site in Columbus, GA with its partner, Chattahoochee Valley Parent 2 Parent.

One RDR program objective is the creation of a national engagement day. Fathers Incorporated is pleased to announce its inaugural National Real Dads Read Day on June 9, 2017. This day is designed to encourage individuals, groups, businesses, etc. to plan reading activities in support of fathers/male caregivers and their children. “This day supports all our program outcomes for children,” says Lamont Jones, co-partner of RDR and CEO of Furthering Fathering. While RDR is designed to encourage all fathers to read to their children, there is a focus on children of color, particularly in low-income communities.

Real Dads Read is aimed at elementary and middle school aged children (K-8) and their fathers/male caregivers with the goals of 1) encouraging children to develop a love of reading, 2) improving children’s literacy skills and educational outcomes, and 3) strengthening bonds between fathers/caregivers and their children.

National Real Dads Read Day will take place each year on the 2nd Friday of June. “This isn’t complicated; children do better on a host of measures, including reading, when fathers are actively involved in their care, so we simply want to earmark this day to encourage reading among dads and their children and remind the public of the important roles fathers play in the lives of their children. We encourage whatever you can do as a dad, individual, group, business, or organization to help achieve this outcome. Let us know about your efforts and plans so we can let others know,” says Braswell. RDR is planning a twitter chat (@RealDadsRead), social media contest (#2017NATRDR), and other fun activities to support National Real Dads Read Day on June 9, 2017.

Fathers Incorporated has submitted several requests to cities to proclaim June 9th as National Real Dads Read Day, including Atlanta and Columbus.

For tips on engaging fathers, barbershops, planning events and more information on National Real Dads Read Day visit their website at www.realdadsread.org, email us at fathers incorporated@gmail.com, or call our office at 770-804-9800.

State Lawmaker Wants to Tax Companies That Profit from Prisons

By Manny Otiko, California Black Media

With the current national focus on law and order, some statewide organizations and lawmakers are working on what they say are solutions that promote investment in young people and reduce California’s privately-owned prison population. Assemblymember Tony Thurmond has sponsored AB 43, a bill that would levy a 10 percent tax on “private prisons and prison-related services.”

The bill is aimed at what experts call the Prison Industrial Complex, a process where the correctional system turns inmates and their families into sources of revenue. Inmates and their families have complained about exorbitant fees charged for making calls to and from prison. Also, some privately-owned companies have contracts with states to employ inmates. However, inmates are often paid way below minimum wage, allowing firms to maximize their profits. 

Thurmond said the Prison Industrial Complex is a “modern form of slavery.” He was motivated to sponsor the legislation after watching Ava Duvernay’s documentary “13th.”

“We want the state to switch from investing in prisons to investing in schools,” said Thurmond, a former social worker who is also running for state superintendent of public instruction.

Thurmond’s legislation would raise funds that would go to prison prevention programs and universal preschool. Funds would be deposited in the State Incarceration Prevention Fund. 

There have been some policies that have been said to contribute to the rise in prison population. From The War on Drugs to California’s “Three Strikes” law policies have all been said to have caused overcrowding situation that led to a Federal judge ordering a decrease in the state’s prison population. 

According to the bill, California currently spends about $4.5 billion per year on the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Some of that money also trickles down to companies that provide services to inmates. According to an article in the East Bay Times, CoreCivic, a company that owns several private facilities in the state, has received $2 billion from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.  

“Companies continue to profit as a result of high state incarceration rates. These for-profit companies provide necessary goods and services to state facilities, often at a markup. In effect, taxpayers are stuck footing the bill, enabling companies to see large profits for goods and services due to California’s prison population,” says the proposed bill.

AB 43 is supported by the California Teachers Association, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, California Nurses Association, Californians for Justice, and First 5 Association of California. The bill will be voted on later this month. 

Thurmond and supporters of the bill say that investing in early education and prison prevention programs are key to stopping the School-to-Prison pipeline. 

“Children who start kindergarten behind, are more likely to stay behind – a trend that feeds into the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Moira Kenney, executive director of the First 5 Association of California. “Early interventions like quality child care and preschool can break this cycle and put children on a path that leads to success in school and in life.”

But not everyone is happy about AB 43. 

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB/CA) said the bill would harm small companies who want to do business with the state. NFIB/CA placed AB 43 on it’s “The Good, The Bad and Ugly” list. According to NFIB/CA State Communications Director Shawn Lewis, the list tracks bills that could negatively impact small business. 

“Imposing a tax on a business that has been awarded a state contract is punitive and counterproductive to the goals of keeping costs down and creating jobs,” said Ken DeVore, NFIB legislative director, in a letter to Thurmond. “Such a tax serves no purpose for the state, and will only hurt small business.”