Fury at plan to power EU homes from Congo dam World Bank supports controversial $80bn project
Plans to link Europe to what would be the world’s biggest hydroelectric dam project in the volatile Democratic Republic of Congo have sparked fierce controversy.
The Grand Inga dam, which has received initial support from the World Bank, would cost $80bn (£48bn). At 40,000MW, it has more than twice the generation capacity of the giant Three Gorges dam in China and would be equivalent to the entire generation capacity of South Africa.
Grand Inga will involve transmission cables linking South Africa and countries in west Africa including Nigeria. A cable would also run through the Sahara to Egypt.
But controversially, it is understood that part of the feasibility study for the Grand Inga project would see the scheme extended to supply power to southern Europe, at a time when less than 30% of Africans have access to electricity – a figure that can fall to less than 10% in many countries.
Extending the scheme to Europe is part of a recent trend that includes the ambitious €400bn (£345bn) Desertec plan to take solar power from the Sahara to southern Europe. And last month Nigeria, Niger and Algeria, with the backing of the European Union, signed a $12bn agreement to transport Nigerian gas through a pipeline to Europe.
“Under the guise of bringing power to poor Africans, development banks are looking to put tens of billions of public money into a flight of fantasy that would only benefit huge Western multinationals and quite possibly feed African energy into European households,” said Anders Lustgarten of the Bretton Woods Project, which scrutinises the World Bank and IMF.
The scheme on the Congo river won support from World Bank president Robert Zoellick on a tour of the facility two weeks ago. Its progress is being keenly watched by a host of international power companies and infrastructure banks.
World Bank officials concede there is concern that a project that has the potential to bring electricity to 500 million African homes might have some of its power diverted to Europe. But the Grand Inga project may hinge on the capacity to export energy to richer markets to ensure it receives financing from banks. “We need creditworthy anchor customers to subscribe so investment can go ahead,” said Vijay Iyer, sector manager of the Africa energy group at the World Bank.
Grand Inga would be the final part of a three-phase project, the first of which is under way. That involves refurbishing a hydroelectric plant dating to 1972 that has fallen into disrepair due to the instability caused by Congo’s civil war. The first phase will involve restoring power supply to South Africa and a host of neighbouring countries.
The second 4,300MW phase is to power the Katanga mining region of the DRC, with a substantial amount of electricity distributed via cable to other African nations. FTSE 100 mining giant BHP Billiton is in negotiations about funding a feasibility study with the DRC government.
The more ambitious Grand Inga phase requires a new dam and a reservoir. The African Development Bank and the World Bank are working up plans for the scheme along with the World Energy Council. Plans will take five years to finalise, with construction taking another 10 years at least after that.
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