Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 01 April 2011 – Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says opponents of hydropower projects in poor countries are “bordering on the criminal,” amid plans in his country to boost output from this energy source as much as five-fold.
“We all agree that we have to fight and conquer poverty,” Meles told a conference here. “To do that, we have to make massive investments in infrastructure, including power generation.”
Ethiopia has a hydro-power potential of 45,000MW, the second-largest in Africa after the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to the World Bank. Under a five-year plan, the country plans to boost power generation to as much as 10,000MW, and to expand electricity coverage to 75% of the population from the current 41%.
Meles’s government has faced criticism from conservation groups “’ including London-based Survival International and International Rivers, based in California “’ for ignoring environmental concerns over the 1,870MW Gibe III project, which is under-construction. International Rivers said the project may be “one of Africa’s worst development disasters” because of the harm it may cause people in the south of the country.
“The views of Western critics are ironic, as Ethiopian facilities are infinitely more environmentally and socially responsible than the projects in their countries, past and present,” Meles said. “At stake in the debate is the future of millions of people in Ethiopia and elsewhere on the continent,” he added.
Africa needs to invest more than US$90 billion a year to address its infrastructure gap, according to the World Bank.
“Hydropower will have to be at the centre of Africa’s energy future,” Meles said.
Yesterday, Ethiopian water and energy minister Alemayehu Tegenu announced plans to build a hydropower plant in the Nile River basin that will generate 5,250MW of electricity.
“The facility, known as the Grand Millennium Dam of Ethiopia, will be built at a cost of US$4.76 billion, and will be situated in the Benishangul-Gumuz region near the border with Sudan,” Alemayehu said. Some of its power may be exported to neighbouring Sudan and Egypt,” he added.
Africa’s second-most populous nation has suffered frequent power outages, even with three power plants coming on line in the past two years. Demand for power is expected to increase by as much as 32% annually, according to the state-owned monopoly provider, Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation.
“At the same the country is working to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2025, which will be achieved partly by reforesting 15 million hectares of land,” Meles said.