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DR Congo. Construction of Inga 3 will only start in 2017

According to the World Bank, the construction of Inga 3 will not start before 2017, two years later than announced by the government..

The construction of the 4,800 MW Inga 3 hydropower dam project which should have begun in October 2015 will be delayed considerably. The last indication was provided by a meeting of the main stakeholders in Paris during the week of the 20 April to discuss strategies to implement the US $ 12 billion project including the construction of the dam and of the interconnection to South Africa.

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Under the auspice of Max Munga Mibindo, a former CEO of the Société nationale d’électricité (SNEL) parastatal at the time of the construction of Inga-Shaba in 1982, the American Law Firm Orrick, the French Bank Lazard and the Paris-based engineering firm recruited by the Congolese government, alongside with representatives of the World Bank and of the African Development Bank discussed the terms of reference of a new tender to select a developer of the project.
The initial schedule envisaged the selection of the developer by last March. Only two consortia remained in the race: the Three Gorges Corporation and Sinohydro versus a Spanish consortium including Actividades de Construcción y Servicios, Eurofinsa and AEE Power, after a third including the South Korean companies Posco and Daewoo, associated with the Canadian engineering firm SNC Lavalin was eliminated. Indeed, in April 2013, the World Bank announced the debarment of the Canadian firm from all its tender procedures for a period of 10 years, following its misconduct in relation to the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project in Bangladesh which involved a conspiracy to pay bribes.

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The Chinese and Spanish consortia were invited to rebid later this year to meet the requisites of a new tender, with the possibility to merge with other potential developers to make their offers. New criteria have been introduced which include the interconnections with South Africa and Nigeria but also, beyond the capacity to build the dams, the operation of the Inga 3 and the provision of finances to build it.
As a result of these changes, on the last 9 April, the World Bank director of operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ahmadou Moustapha Ndiaye warned in press conference held in Kinshasa that the beginning of the construction works for the 4,800 MW Inga 3 power dam, would not take place before 2017. Moreover, Ndiaye stressed that the date of 2017 should be taken with a lot of caution since many technical questions remained to be solved.
A number of steps have still to be made before the start of the construction. One is the adoption by the Congolese parliament of a special law on the development of the Inga projects, he added, which conceives Inga 3 as the first phase of the mega 39,000 MW Grand Inga project.

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More technical studies are required to complete those already made by Electricité de France and AECOM and financed by the African Development Bank. The World Bank and the AfDB have committed together more than US 120 million to that effect. One of the challenges is the geological structure of the site where the dam is planned to be built, at the end of the Bundi valley, which runs parallel to the riverbed of the Congo. Indeed,a study published in 1955 by the Belgian Overseas Royal Academy, warns that since shale is a major component of the soil at the site of Bundi, the flanks of the valley are not stable.
There are also questions on how the construction of Inga 3 may affect the existing Inga 2 dam. The Inga 3 Project Management Team launched last April a call for proposals to companies which would be interested in carrying out a study on the off-take of the Inga River upstream of the existing power stations of Inga 1 and Inga 2, to divert part of the Congo waters into the Bundi Valley, which will be financed by African Development Bank. This point is important since the challenge is to distribute the the adequate volume of water to guarantee a sufficient supply for Inga 3 to produce 4,800 MW and at the same time to keep the two other hydropower stations operating at full capacity.

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Other challenges the Grand Inga Hydro Project Treaty signed between the DRC and South Africa and ratified last years by the parliaments of both countries. According to the Department of Energy, South Africa commits to off-take 2,500 MW from Inga 3. But, owing to the important fluctuations of the average flow of the river, ranging between 60 000 meters/second and 32,000 m/s in August), the 4,800 MW potential for Inga 3 may not be guaranteed all the time, warn engineers. And then the question is whether during the dry season the available energy will be split according to a 52.08%-47.92% breakdown corresponding to the figures mentioned in the Treaty, or each country accepting to reduce its share or whether South Africa will get 2,500 MW in all circumstances.
Finally, the challenge is also a financial one. The mobilization of funds imperative is one of the reasons why the government and its partners have frozen the selection of a developer. Discussions to get financial support from all quarters are ongoing. One of the last developments has been the Finance Minister Henri Yav Mulang’s visit to Washington during which he managed to obtain a commitment from the vice-president of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Hideaki Domichi to participate to the financing of Inga 3. There have been also rumours in Brussels and Luxemburg about a possible involvement of the European Investment Bank (EIB) through a several hundred million euros loan but the green light of the European Commission is still required. Owing to the delays announced by the World Bank, in the best case fast-track scenario, Inga 3 would only be operational in the middle of next decade, calculate International Energy Agency experts.

François Misser

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