Africa’s biggest electricity project, Inga 3 powers regional cooperation

By François Misser
Posted on Friday, 11 October 2013 14:17

The construction of the first phase of the hydroelectric project at Inga 3 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could begin in October 2015.

After the failure of a first attempt in 2010, President Joseph Kabila hopes that this time it will be successful.

On 20 February 2010, the energy ministers of the DRC, Angola, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa decided to abandon a project dubbed the Western Corridor that would have led to the construction of an electricity interconnection system along the Atlantic Ocean, starting at a third hydroelectric dam at Inga in the DRC’s Bas-Congo province.

The failure is due to Kinshasa’s reservations about the project. The deal was born in 2003 just after the Congolese peace accords signed at Sun City in South Africa.

It was a time when the DRC was in a position of weakness and found it difficult to refuse the demands of Angola and Namibia, which had defended the country against Rwanda and Uganda, or its South African hosts.

The Congolese government’s biggest reservations were about its small share in the Western Corridor Company.

All of the destination and transit companies would hold a 20% stake in the holding company, but Kinshasa argued that it should have a larger share because it controlled the productive resource.

South Africa Steps in

In 2010, Kinshasa backed an alternative that would have shortened the necessary interconnection and left the DRC with a larger portion of the electricity generated by Inga 3.

Mining company BHP Billiton wanted to build an aluminium refinery in Bas-Congo, but a drop in the international market price for aluminium led it to abandon the project in February 2012.

BHP Billiton was not the only game in town.

In November 2011, South African president Jacob Zuma signed a memorandum of understanding with President Kabila for the development of Inga and the construction of a transmission line to Witkop.

The two leaders further confirmed their commitment in March of this year with a bilateral treaty that each parliament must still ratify.

Zuma’s principal motivations are the delays in improving generation capacity in South Africa and the competitiveness of electricity from Inga – estimated at about $0.02/kWh, according to the Canadian firm SNC-Lavalin.

At a conference in Paris in May, the DRC’s electricity and water minister, Bruno Kapandji Kalala, announced that construction of Inga 3, with a capacity of 4,800MW, would start in October 2015.

That project, known as Inga 3 Basse Chute, is due to cost $12bn with the inter-connection to South Africa, which will take 2,500MW of Inga III’s production.

This marks the first step of the construction of the Grand Inga complex, which could ultimately generate 39,000MW.

The development of Inga 3, which is a priority project under the African Union’s New Partnership for African Development, will require immense effort.

In the first phase, contractors will have to harness the waters upstream of the Inga 1 (351MW) and Inga 2 (1,424MW) dams in order to feed the new dam, which will be more than 100m tall and located at the entrance to the now dry Bundi Valley, parallel to the river’s current course.

That phase could take six years according to the African Development Bank (AfDB).

During the second phase, the current course of the Congo River will be blocked above the existing hydroelectric plants and the majority of the flow of the river will be used to flood the Bundi Valley, where the Inga 3 dam will be raised to produce an additional 3,000MW, bringing its total capacity to 7,800MW.

Later, the site will be built up with other hydroelectric plants to reach a capacity of 39,000MW, which would make it the largest dam complex, ahead of the Three Gorges (22,500MW) in China.

Not so fast

But this timing, handy for President Kabila’s political agenda, could be delayed, especially considering the list of participants at the Paris conference: the AfDB, the World Bank, the Agence Française de Développement, the European Investment Bank and the Development Bank of Southern Africa.

Those financiers are likely to impose many conditions on the project’s development, if they agree to finance it, and the backers also need to associate the countries through which the high-tension line will pass, including Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Those that will be involved also have to settle on the shareholdings in the dam’s holding company and in the company that will manage the distribution of electricity.

There is also the task of raising the necessary funds. For the former chief executive of the Société Nationale d’Electricité, Noël Vika di Panzu, the project can only be achieved through a public-private partnership.

The recession in Europe will not facilitate the search for public money there.

A consultant points out that those involved still need to organise complementary studies and to sign contracts for the electro-mechanical material and the transmission equipment.

In early June the AfDB and the Congolese government signed two accords for a grant of $5.3m to create a permanent national body that will promote and oversee the development of Inga’s hydroelectric potential.

Three consortiums are lining up to develop Inga 3: one is made up of China’s Sinohydro and the China Three Gorges Corporation, another includes South Korea’s Posco and Daewoo along with Canada’s SNC-Lavalin and the final one is composed of Spain’s Actividades de Construcción y Servicios, Eurofinsa and AEE Power.

The South Koreans may have to look for a new partner because SNC-Lavalin has been banned from applying for World Bank-related contracts after misconduct on a contract in Bangladesh There seems to be a clear Chinese interest in the project.

Sinohydro’s president Song Dongsheng told our sister publication Jeune Afrique in June that his consortium has the backing of China Export-Import Bank and other Chinese state-owned banks.

Another Chinese firm, China Power Investment Corporation, is proposing to build an aluminium project in Bas-Congo that would use some of the DRC’s portion of the electricity to be generated by Inga 3. ●

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