DRC’s Inga power project might sink

drc_grand_ingaA MULTIBILLION-DOLLAR power project on the Congo River involving five African governments might be put on hold because the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) wants to go it alone with the backing of international mining giant BHP Billiton. (pictured: Proposed Inga 3 dam)

The matter will be discussed at the highest level later this month, when the 14 heads of state of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will meet in the DRC capital of Kinshasa for their annual summit, The Namibian has learnt.

It is not us pulling out; in mid-flight, the DRC government wants to take back the Inga 3 mandate for their own development, supported by BHP Billiton , Dr Pat Naidoo, Chief Executive Officer of a company set up to develop Inga 3, told The Namibian via e-mail yesterday.

The Western Power Corridor Company (Westcor) was established in 2003 by five SADC members, including the DRC, to develop the hydro-electric resource of Western SADC.

The participating utilities are Eskom of South Africa, Botswana Power Corporation, NamPower of Namibia, ENE of Angola and SNEL of the DRC. Each of the five power utilities put down U$100 000 (about N$800 000) to fund the company.

It is a case of a shareholder in the joint venture disturbing the agreed development plans. We have taken the matter up at SADC level and wait on SADC to intervene and help resolve it. It does highlight that the DRC continues to be a high-risk investment site, Naidoo added.

Billiton has offered to buy 6 000 megawatt (MW) of electricity from Inga 3 from the DRC government to use for its two planned aluminium smelters and has even made a US$10 million down payment to accelerate the project.

Westcors plan was to fund the project, costing around US$7 billion (N$56 billion) via government equity stakes from SADC members.

Approached for comment, NamPowers Marketing and Communications Manager, John Kaimu, said a decision had not been taken at Government level yet.

We are waiting until the DRC government pronounces itself to the contrary, Kaimu told The Namibian.

There was a Westcor shareholders meeting in Johannesburg on the above issue and it was resolved that Westcors office in Botswana will scale down operations and continue to incur operational costs until 31 March 2010 to minimise the costs.

The Inga 3 matter will be discussed by the SADC energy ministers meeting which is likely to take place during this month and to be brought before the SADC heads of state summit, Kaimu said.

Should the DRC pull out of the deal, the [remaining four] shareholders mandated Eskom to assess alternative schemes in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Angola that could be used for the same project.

Given all these, NamPower as a shareholder is keenly awaiting the formal position of the DRC government just like the other stakeholders, he told The Namibian.

Two hydroelectric dams, Inga 1 and Inga 2, were built about 40 years ago with a total capacity of 1 775 MW, but they are operating at low output and are considered as white elephants.

The new project involves the development of a new hydro-electric power station on the Congo River, Inga 3, and in about ten years time Grand Inga, which is to become the biggest hydropower plant in Africa.?

Bulk transmission lines from Inga 3 will transmit the electricity to the national grids of the five participating countries, which are also part of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP).

Inga 3 is managed by the energy ministers of the five countries, by the chief executives of the five state utilities, chaired by ENE of Angola, and a ten-member board of directors, chaired by NamPower of Namibia.

The Namibian

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