Now experts warn Inga dam hydroelectric power project not viable

Saturday August 24 2013

By JOHN FRASER and MAURICE WA KU DEMBA, Special Correspondents

WHILE aspirations remain high for Africa’s largest hydroelectric project, the Inga III, analysts have expressed concerns that it is not viable.

In May, Congolese Minister of Energy Bruno Kapandji announced that the project, expected to generate 4,800MW, was moving forward. It will be constructed on the lower Congo River in western Democratic Republic of Congo, with South Africa as a partner and major client of the project.

But Independent economist Ian Cruickshanks said that although the project would provide sub-Saharan Africa with cheaper and cleaner electricity than is currently produced in coal-fired power stations, transporting it to South Africa would be a challenge.

“My one concern follows experiences of the Cahora Bassa Dam project on the Zambezi River in Mozambique. It generates electricity, but the transmission to customers in South Africa isn’t efficient,” said Mr Cruickshanks. “Then there is a huge security problem of giant power lines running across the DRC, which is at war with itself.”

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the security situation in eastern DRC has remained shaky since July 2011.

Independent engineer and commentator on energy issues Andrew Kenny echoed Mr Cruckshanks’ concerns.

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“Investors would fear political and commercial risks coming from an unstable government in DRC,” said Mr Kenny.

He said Grand Inga was only possible as a regional project providing power to many other countries.

Senior research and strategy analyst at Frontier Advisory Simon Schaefer, said that the project had been on the cards for many years and that its size, the complex political landscape and problems of the DRC and the region were key obstacles in its implementation.

“The DRC is politically unstable, there is rampant corruption and it lacks credible institutions. These factors hinder the implementation of a long-term multi-billion dollar project,” he said.

Inga III will cost an estimated $12 billion with dam construction taking up about $8.5 billion. The project will take six years to complete.

But the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB) have to approve a $63 million technical assistance package for the project.

According to the World Bank information sheets on the project, $43 million will come from its concessionary funding arm, the International Development Association, and while the remainder will come from the AfDB.

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