Ethiopia has commissioned the trial production of electricity at the $1.8 billion Gilgel Gibe III hydro plant on the River Omo.
Upon installation of 10 turbines each with a capacity of 187MW, the plant is expected to supply both the domestic and export markets.
Ethiopia’s Water, Irrigation and Energy Minister Alemayehu Tegenu said power generation will start this month from three turbines with an output of 561MW.
Mr Alemayehu said in addition to power generation, Gibe III will regulate water flows to end the annual flooding in the South Omo region and provide a year-round supply to downstream irrigation projects.
Gibe III is the third plant on the Gibe-Omo hydroelectric cascade including the upstream Gilgel Gibe and Gibe II, which are already operating. The Ethiopian government plans to build downstream Gibe IV and Gibe V plants in the future.
The Gibe III project is on the lower course of the Omo river, some 155km downstream of the Gilgel Gibe II powerhouse. Lake Turkana in northwestern Kenya receives 90 per cent of its water from the River Omo.
Environmental activists have been campaigning against the project, saying the flow into the lake will be reduced by about two-thirds for three years while the reservoir is filled, threatening the livelihoods of as many as 300,000 people.
Gibe III is expected to supply about half of its electricity to Ethiopia, with 500MW being exported to Kenya, 200MW to Sudan and 200MW to Djibouti.
The construction of a high-voltage transmission line from Wolyta Sodo in Ethiopia to Suswa substation near Naivasha town in Kenya is expected to be completed in 2018 to facilitate trading in electricity.