Grand Inga Dam Project: Unrealised potential

Overview

The Grand Inga Dam is described as a series of seven proposed hydropower stations at the site of the Inga Falls, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). If completed as planned, this Dam would have the capacity to supply 40 GW of power, which is more than a third of the total electricity produced in Africa. Making it the largest power station in the world.

The Grand Inga Dam is believed to be a part of a greater vision by the international economic community to develop a power grid across Africa that will spur the continent's industrial economic development.

It's reported that the Grand Inga Dam will be constructed in 6 phases. Inga Dam I and Inga Dam II, were commissioned in 1972 and 1982 respectively. Inga Dam I was designed with the capacity to generate 351 MW. While Inga Dam II has a capacity of 1,424 MW.

Inga Dam III is currently in the design phase, with the ultimate design and size being subjected to signficant debate. The construction of the successive phases of Grand Inga will hinge on availability of a market and funding for the projects.

The total project has been estimated to cost $80 billion, including cost of the transmission lines needed to carry its power across Africa and potentially to Europe.



Rehabilitation of existing Inga Dams

DRC faced a number of problems rehabilitating Inga Dam I and II. The existing dams were operating below 40% of their design capacity, producing a combined output of below 700 MW out of a possible 1775 MW. Subsequently, there were numerous attempts to rehabilitate both power stations and their electrical grid. In May 2001, Siemens was reportedly negotiating with the DRC government over a billion-dollar partnership that would involve the restoration and modernization of the its electrical grid.This included the rehabilitation of both Inga power plants but work was delayed.


In June 2003 there was also a report that the World Bank had signed a $450 million contract with Siemens to improve water and electrical distribution in the DRC. Again, this included the rehabilitation of both Inga power plants (which were reported to be at 30% capacity).It is unclear what happened to these contracts.


In May 2005 a Canadian company MagEnergy signed an agreement with SNEL to rehabilitate some of Inga II's turbines, with a completion goal of 2009. The actual work to rehabilitate Inga II began on 27 April 2006, just under a year after the initial agreement with MagEnergy was signed.This first phase, which involved fixing a single 168 MW turbine and other emergency repair work, was reported 90% complete in April 2009, and the second phase was estimated to take an additional five years. However, there is doubt over whether the government accepts the validity of the contract, and in the meantime the Canadian company First Quantum was hired to rehabilitate two separate Inga II turbines. SNEL has received funding from the Regional and Domestic Power Markets Development Project to carry out repairs. It should be noted that the Regional and Domestic Power Markets Development Project was supported by the World Bank, African Development Bank, and European Investment Bank.

Environmental and Economic impact of building Inga Dam I and II

If Inga Dam I and II were both fully functional and provided at least 80% of its combined 1.8 GW capacity to DRC's national grid, then it would undoubtably be classed as enviromentally beneficial because it reduces carbon emissions. Unfortunately, even with the installation of these two dams, 84% of Congolese people still lack access to electricity. While Internationalrivers.org and Banktrack.org argue that both Inga Dam projects displaced thousands, destroyed livelihoods and impoverished generations while plunging the country into debt. It would have been a travesty not to exploit the great Inga Falls as a sustainable source of energy to DRC. There is clearly a problem of reliance on fossil fuel as a source of energy in DRC. Reports show that their carbon emissions increased by 3.77% between 2015 and 2016. This represented an increase by 238,393 tons over 2015, when CO2 emissions were 6,326,381 tons. Worldometer also reported that 73.1% of DRC's carbon emissions come from transport (fossil fuel driven) as shown in the chart below. Internationalrivers.org suggests that instead of DRC's government to chase after large hydropower projects they should invest in other abundant resources such as solar, micro-hydro and wind power. While solar and wind power are also sustainable sources of energy, there is no guarantee that after installation these assets won't dilapidate due to inadequate maintenance, just like Inga Dam I and II. More importantly, hydropower energy is cheaper than wind and solar energy supply. Hydropower energy supply is constant when compared to solar and wind, which are intermitent in nature. That is, wind doesn't blow 24 hours a day nor does the sun shine 24 hours of the day, but water does and can flow 24 hours of the day. Flowing water or hydropower as an energy source, is more reliable than wind and solar energy. That said, the fact that both Inga Dam projects didn't achieve benefit realisation means they offer no enviromental benefit to DRC.


The Inga Dam I and II were tagged as economic disasters by multiple media outlets and watch dogs. In order to connect the power generated from both dams with the copper and cobalt mines located near Zambia's border in Katanga, a new project was commissioned to build the longest high-voltage direct current power line in existence, bypassing local communities and converting into alternating current at its final destination. This new project was called Inga Shaba power line and was politically motivated as western investors and the Congolese government wanted to support the Shaba mines during a period of elevated copper prices. The government also wanted to consolidate its power over the secessionist southern province, and the West had an interest in seeing the Congo stay firmly in the anti-communist camp. The project cost was constantly revised upward and eventually reached $500 million over budget. As of 1980 the costs of the Inga-Shaba power line totaled 24% of Congo's debt. As of 1999, Congo still owed the U.S. Export-Import Bank over $900 million, leaving American taxpayers unpaid.

Conclusion

The DRC government are pushing ahead with the Grand Inga Dam project against all reservations and advise by concerned stakeholders. The government are looking for investors to build Inga Dam III even though the construction would displace thousands of more people. We would recommend that the DRC government focus on repairing Inga Dam I and II to deliver its design output. The government should also endeavour to rehouse or reimburse people that were displaced from their homes by building these dams. If the existing Inga dams cannot deliver any evidential value to the people of DRC, then the goverment should stop investing into hydropower projects.


We hope that the Grand Inga Dam project is completed because it will benefit DRC and Africa economically and environmentally. That said, we cannot ignore the incompetence shown by the DRC government in maintaining and operating Inga Dam I and II. It is only logical to assume that the same behaviour will persist with the Inga Dam III project and the overall Grand Inga Dam project. A way out of this could be for the DRC government to establish a public private partnership with an investor who has the resources to bring this project to fruition and continually ensure it delivers to the required benefit realisation it was designed for. What cannot and should not be taken for granted is the economic and environmental benefits hydropower energy can bring to DRC and Africa.


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