Bloomberg News

Congo’s Inga Hydropower Project May Need Phased Implementation

June 08, 2011

June 8 (Bloomberg) -- Democratic Republic of Congo’s plans to generate 40,000 megawatts by damming the Congo River could be staggered, making it easier to find funding and secure clients, research commissioned by the African Development Bank shows.

Congo’s government estimates it needs $22 billion for the Inga power complex, which would harness the power of the world’s second-biggest river by volume after the Amazon. Work on the project, which includes the $5.2 billion, 5,000-megawatt Inga 3 power plant, has stalled due to a lack of money and a firm implementation plan.

“Inga is a once-in-a-lifetime project,” which the AfDB wants to support, Bobby Pittman, the Tunis-based lender’s vice president for infrastructure, said in an interview in Lisbon yesterday.

The Inga complex would produce almost twice as much energy as China’s Three Gorges dam and may meet the majority of power needs in Africa, where less than a quarter of the population has access to electricity. The project includes the Grand Inga dam that would be developed after Inga 3.

In 2008, the AfDB agreed to fund a $15.7 million study of the project. The research is due to be completed by September, with initial findings indicating that Inga’s construction could be implemented in several phases, Pittman said, without giving details.

Congo’s rivers have the potential to produce 100,000 megawatts of power, according to the World Bank.

BHP Talks

The central African nation completed the 351-megawatt Inga 1 hydropower plant in 1970, and the 1,424-megawatt Inga 2 plant came into operation 12 years later. In 2007, the AfDB agreed to give Congo a $58 million grant to refurbish the plants.

In October last year, Congo said it was in “very advanced” talks on the Inga 3 project with BHP Billiton Ltd., which was seeking electricity for a possible aluminum smelter. BHP, the world’s biggest mining company, said at the time that the talks on the power plant and smelter were at an “early conceptual phase.”

The AfDB intends helping Congo harness financing for Inga from private companies and other multilateral lenders, Pittman said. He was unable to say how much funding the AfDB would commit.

One of five major multilateral development lenders in the world, the AfDB funded infrastructure projects worth $4 billion last year. Energy projects accounted for $1.4 billion and transportation projects $1.9 billion, the lender said in a report released in Lisbon yesterday before its June 9-10 annual general meeting.

The bank’s net income fell to $103.6 million last year from $107.4 million in 2009, as impairment provisions rose. Established in 1964, the AfDB has 53 member countries from Africa and 24 from outside the continent, including the U.S., the European Union and Japan. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has the biggest shareholding.

--Editors: Philip Sanders, Karl Maier

To contact the reporters on this story: Mike Cohen in Lisbon at mcohen21@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net


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