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DR Congo Power Plant Holds Promise for Energy Supply to Millions across Africa

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  • The Inga power complex in DRC has enormous potential, with some estimates indicating that it may supply energy for as many as 500 million households across Africa
  • Yet because of years of neglect in infrastructure maintenance, power shortages have become the norm rather than the exception
  • Inga is now the subject of renewed attention at the regional level as part of a multi-nation effort to reduce energy shortages within SADC
  • The World Bank is helping finance investments in the energy sector at the regional level, including through the rehabilitation of the Inga power plant

KINSHASA, April 6, 2009—The Inga complex is the hub of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s power generation industry. Located in the western section of the country, approximately 300 km downriver from Kinshasa, the capital city, the Inga site holds 40,000 to 45,000 MW of the country’s 100,000 MW of hydropower potential. It comprises two power plants, Inga 1 and Inga 2, with a capacity of 1,800 MW each, which started operating in 1972 and 1982, respectively. Authorities are now looking to strengthen this potential with Inga 3, and ultimately with Greater Inga.

However, at present the country’s energy potential is virtually in hibernation because of poorly maintained equipment. In fact, the National Electricity Company (SNEL) can no longer maintain its machinery in compliance with established standards.

According to SNEL statistics, only five percent of the Congolese population has access to electricity. In Kinshasa, the availability of electricity in households is the exception, while the lack thereof and power outages are the norm. With the growth of the population in the capital and the emergence of small businesses, demand is constantly increasing. In the provinces, the electricity shortfall is even more glaring. The Katanga province alone, with its mining potential, needs 800 MW in addition to the 1,424 MW that it currently receives. Together Kinshasa and Katanga currently have a shortfall of 1,400 MW, while the entire production at Inga is currently at 1,750 MW!

Creating a common market for electricity in SADC

In light of its current inability to rehabilitate this costly complex on its own, the DRC is requesting support from the international community, especially southern African countries. South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are already benefiting from the power generated at Inga.

As a member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), DRC has also motivated other partners to seek a sustainable solution to the electricity problem. Four member countries of this regional group, who are particularly interested in this collaboration offer, have come together to form the “Westcor Power Project,” through their national power companies. Therefore, in collaboration with SNEL, the South Africa’s Eskom, Namibia’s Nam Power, Angola’s Empressa Nacional de Electricidade, and the Botswana Power Corporation, are planning to build Inga 3, a new 3,500 MW power plant at the Inga complex, and a 3,000 km electricity transmission line to serve the five countries. Construction is set to begin in early 2010.

In addition to these countries that have signed individual agreements with the DRC, all of Southern Africa has an energy policy that could benefit the Inga complex.

The Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) is the electricity arm of SADC. Its general aims are the cohesive development of national electrical infrastructures within a regional framework and, from a practical point of view, the integration of the national electricity transmission networks of member countries, in order to create a common electricity market.

It is within this framework that the DRC and Zambia have put into service a double capacity line that can carry between 210 and 500 MW of power for distribution between the two countries. This double line will link the networks of the two countries to those of the countries in Southern and Eastern Africa. The DRC is also planning to export its electric power to Mozambique. Plans have been made to build an interconnection with Maputo and it is expected that 300 MW will be exported to Mozambique from the Inga dam.

In addition to the countries of Southern Africa, a number of countries in West Africa, including Nigeria, have also indicated their intent to purchase power from Inga. In 2003, the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), Nigeria’s power utility, signed a memorandum of understanding with SNEL in order to provide electricity to Nigeria from the Inga dam.

In Central Africa, Congo-Brazzaville has been connected to the DRC network since 1953. It has therefore been supplied by the Inga dam since it was first put into operation.

Nearly US$1 billion in investment from the World Bank

Since 2002, the World Bank has been helping to finance the DRC’s energy sector, especially the hydroelectric plants at Inga and other power plants in several cities in countries participating in the Emergency Multisectoral Rehabilitation and Recovery Loan Project. Financing has been provided through two projects—the Southern African Power Market Project (SAPMP) and the Regional and Domestic Power Markets Development Project (Projet de Marché d’Electricité à la Consommation Domestique et à l’Export, PMEDE). To this end, the Bank has committed US$1 billion.

PMEDE includes, among other components, the rehabilitation of the Inga plants, with a view to increasing reliability and operational capacity from the present level of 700 MW to almost 1,300 MW; the construction of a second Inga-Kinshasa line, and the rehabilitation and expansion of the Kinshasa network. Project costs are currently estimated at US$500 million.

Initial World Bank financing for the PMEDE project amounted to about US$300 million. According to Mr. Pembele who directs the project on behalf of SNEL, additional financing of the tune of US$200 million is expected, in light of a shortfall that was created subsequent to the escalation of the cost of the project as a result of the sudden rise in prices on the world market, in addition to the current global financial and economic crisis.

However, the construction of the second Inga-Kinshasa line will be financed by the European Investment Bank (EIB). Approximately US$140 million has already been allocated and the project’s estimated completion date is set in three years. PMEDE is an outgrowth of the SAPMP, which seeks to promote an efficient regional power market within SADC. Its primary aim is to create favorable conditions for scaled-up investments in the power sector.

In this context, it is expected that there will be an increase from 500 to 1,000 MW in the transit capacity of the DRC’s power export corridor to Southern Africa, through Zambia. This will require the preliminary rehabilitation of the Inga-Kolwezi high-voltage transmission line (1,700 km), which provides electricity to the Katanga alternating current network that connects DRC to South Africa, through Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.

This increase in export capacity also requires the prior availability of this power. The rehabilitation of the Inga complex therefore became a matter of urgency, giving rise to the PMEDE project.

Mr. Pembele has given assurances that the implementation of the PMEDE project will on the one hand increase the power available from Inga and, on the other hand, facilitate the diversion of a portion of the rehabilitated additional power toward Kinshasa. The establishment of a small power plant in the eastern section of the capital is also envisioned. Financing the SAPMP project is estimated at US$353 million. It was originally supposed to be US$178 million, but received an additional grant of US$175 million from the World Bank.

Should the giant ever wake up…

According to a SNEL expert, the DRC’s GDP would increase by three percent if every customer were to pay their electric bill. At the same time, the sale of power abroad could provide SNEL, and by extension the DRC, with more resources with which to implement its policies and therefore enable it to implement its work plan for the Congolese population.

Greater Inga represents a “unique opportunity to promote economic independence, peace, and prosperity in Africa,” Mr. Latsoucabé Fall of the World Energy Council (WEC) is quoted as saying an article published in the daily Libération.

The plant would supply electricity to 500 million of Africa’s 900 million people, as well as to the industries of several countries on the continent. However, World Bank experts are of the view that the development of Inga 3 and Greater Inga, though necessary – the energy from Inga being clean and inexpensive – will not solve all the energy problems in the DRC or in Africa. This is why the Congolese Government is seeking other solutions outside of this complex to serve other urban areas in the country.

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