The Kinshasa authorities are planning the construction of a third dam at Inga falls by October 2015, before the next presidential election.
During a conference which took place in Paris on the last 17 and 18 May, the Congolese Minister of Water Resources and Electricity, Bruno Kapandji announced that the construction of the 4800 MW Inga III hydropower, located at 230 km to the West of Kinshasa, would start in October 2015. The project whose total cost is estimated at 12 billion dollars by the African Development Bank (AfDB), including the interconnection with South Africa which will purchase half of the power generated by this new dam, is the first phase of the much more ambitious 39,000 MW Grand Inga project. When completed, hopefully by 2021, Inga III will be the second largest project in Africa after Ethiopia’s 6000 MW Renaissance dam on the Blue Nile.
Inga III is a flagship project of the New Economic Partnership for African Development. It will involve huge works. Part of the Congo river flow will be diverted upstream of the existing dams of Inga I (351 MW) and Inga II (1424 MW) into the currently dry Bundi Valley which runs parallel to the current riverbed. At the end of the Bundi valley, a 100 meters high dam will be erected and the power station will be built at the bottom of it. A second phase of the project will involve the construction of a new dam, upstream of the existing hydroelectric dams of Inga I and Inga II, which will bar the river Congo and divert larger quantities of the flow towards the Bundi valley, where the Inga III dam wall will be raised and equipped in different stages with more turbines until it reaches a capacity of 39,000 MW. At the end of the day Grand Inga, will be the world’s largest hydropower project, ahead of China’s 22,500 MW Three Gorges project on the Yangtze river.
Participants to the Paris conference were however a bit sceptical about the timing of the project. Indeed, many obstacles need to be removed before the works actually begin,. The Congolese and the South African parliaments must still adopt an international treaty on the implementation of the Grand Inga project, whose draft was approved last March in Lubumbashi. Besides, the transit countries of the 3,000 km line which will bring the electricity of Inga III, all the way down to Witkop (South Africa), namely Zambia and Zimbabwe, must have a say if not a stake in the project. Details of the respective shares of the stakeholders in the project company and in the transport and power marketing companies must still be worked out. This is not necessarily an easy task. In February 2010, Energy Ministers of the DRC, South Africa, Angola, Namibia and Botswana, buried the Western Corridor project (Westcor) which consisted in the construction of an interconnection along the Atlantic Coast from Inga to South Africa. Indeed, the Congolese considered that the 20 percent stake they were left with in the Westcor project, which was supposed to build the project, was too small since Congo provided with Inga, the resource. Now, even assuming these problems are solved, at the same time, the DRC is expected to adopt a new Electricity Code which would be conducive for the private sector investment and independent power producers.
While some NGOs argue that the project could be a new white elephant, its promoters including the Congolese government and the AfDB which financed the studies for the development of the Grand Inga project, retort that more than 600 million Africans have no access to electricity. South Africa is particularly keen to see Inga III happen, since 2008 power shortages and black-outs owed to an unsufficient increase of the local generation capacity. Studies carried out in 2008 by the Canadian engineering consultant SNC Lavalin also show that Inga III would produce electricity at the very competitive price of 2 cents/kWh which would help increase the competiveness of all its clients and at the same time help fighting the climate change by reducing South Africa’s dependence from more expansive CO2 generating coal thermal plants. Moreover, as points out professor Baudouin Michel, the director of the UNESCO-funded and Kinshasa-based regional tropical forests management school (ERAIFT), Inga’s renewable energy would bring an invaluable contribution to the fight against deforestation, offering alternatives to the consumption of charcoal, as the main source of domestic energy, provided investments are made in the power distribution networks.
There is a growing consensus over the pertinence of the project among donors. Yet, this does not solve all problems. The funding of the project remains a challenge and its complexity as well, which may explain the scepticism of some participants to the Paris conference, attended by potential financiers, about the possibility to launch works as soon as in 2015. But the political dimension of the issue is also important. According to insiders of the power sector, the real reason for the choice of that date is that President Joseph Kabila is absolutely determined to the show to the Congolese citizens that things are really on the move in the power sector, before the next presidential election which is due in 2016. Although in principle, he is not supposed to run for a third mandate, political scientists guess that the head of state is currently making the necessary steps to get the constitution amended in time to allow him to stand again.
Three consortiums are already competing to build the dam. One is formed by the Sinohydro and the Three Gorges Corporation of China whose main technical asset is the experience acquired in the construction of the world’s current largest dam. A second consortium pools together the South Korean Posco and Daewoo construction giants and the SNC Lavalin. Finally, a Spanish consortium made of Actividades de Construcción y Servicios (ACS), Eurofinsa and AEE is also in the starting blocks. China is in a pole position however, because the Chinese firms boast from the support of the Chinese state-owned banks including the Eximbank. Besides, China can offer a package. The China Power Investment Corporation (CPIC) has indeed offered at the end of May to build an aluminium smelter in Bas-Congo, which would use the electricity of Inga III and profile itself as a solid client. But at the same time, the needs of the Kinshasa 10 million inhabitants cannot be ignored. Many Congolese also hope that some mistakes of the past will not be reproduced. Many remind that the existing Inga-Katanga power line, which brings the electricity to the mines of Katanga and to Southern Africa, has left in the dark up till now the people who live along its 1,700 km.