Addis Ababa on Thursday launched electricity production from the second turbine of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), doubling its power output to 540MW.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched the facility even as Egypt protested, pending resolutions on the future safety and dispute resolutions from the use of the dam on the Blue Nile.
“The GERD is the historical project on which Ethiopians have invested their labour, money and knowledge,” the Prime Minister underlined, according to a speech shared by the FANA Broadcasting Service.
For the PM, the GERD is a reward of the dreams of the ancestors.
The new turbine at GERD’s Unit 9 will produce up to 270 MW of electricity. It will add to a similar capacity already produced by Unit 10, whose turbine was launched in February. The dam now already produces the same amount of power as that of Gibe dams on the country’s Omo River.
The Gerd, a $5 billion project put up from local fundraising is meant to produce up to 6,400MW of power when fully operational. Ethiopian authorities think it could help alleviate access to electricity which is currently just under 45 percent.
In February, PM Abiy said the dam was also beneficial to neighbours with supply of surplus electricity as well as control of floods.
GERD’s construction since 2011 has been a subject of controversy as Ethiopia, the largest source of the Nile waters, bickered with Egypt, the largest consumer of the Nile waters. Sudan was also pulled in as it is a consumer of the Nile waters.
Still under construction, the dam’s water levels will be filled gradually in future, reaching a capacity that can produce about 6,400MW of electricity. Officials have, however, recently given lower production figures. Ethiopian officials said the initial production will generate at least 375MW.
The dam’s reservoir collected 4.5 billion cubic metres of water in the first filling and 13.9 cubic metres in the second phase, according to the Ethiopian Ministry for Water, Irrigation and Energy.
The dam, at 145 metres high and 1.78km long, could hold as much as 74 billion cubic metres of water.
But while Ethiopia hopes to expand electricity supply to its 110 million people where 60 percent of them have no access to power, downstream countries Egypt and Sudan have demanded assurances that the project will not harm their water needs or make it difficult to predict flooding.
Egypt and Sudan depend on the Nile waters for most of their water needs.
The dam lies on the Blue Nile River in the Benishangul-Gumuz region in western Ethiopia, near the border with Sudan. The region had recently seen violence from a local militia group so the launch of the project is also likely to boost security in the area.