Part of the Inga
hydropower complex
on the Congo River
Cape Town, South Africa — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 01 July 2011 – Current plans to develop the stalled US$8 to US$10 billion Inga 3 hydropower project on the Congo River may prove to be too risky because of costs and time, according to a senior African Development Bank (AfDB) official.

The bank is financing a study for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) government to optimise development of the Congo River’s immense hydropower potential, with a pre-feasibility study expected in September.

Current plans for the development of the Inga 3 project entail drilling up to 70km of tunnels into rock formations the geology of which is not well known, and only drawing a maximum of 3,500 MW of power.

AfDB energy and environment director Hela Cheikhrouhou told Reuters on the sidelines of a G20 infrastructure meeting that preliminary findings suggested this was a very risky option, because it could cost more and take more time than anticipated.

Cheikhrouhou said the findings showed it would be better to remove the tunnelling option in favour of open channels which could be helped with a dam.

“With that solution, the DRC government could build a 3,500 to 7,000MW project which will be per cost of electricity generated cheaper, faster to implement and less risky, Cheikhrouhou said.

”We think this is actually a game-changer,” she added.

The Inga 3 hydropower scheme on the Congo River is one of the largest proposed projects in Africa aimed at overcoming power shortages that have curtailed economic growth on the continent.

Cheikhrouhou said rough estimates suggested it would cost in the region of US$7 billion for a 3,500 MW project, doubling to US$14 billion for 7,000 MW, with first power only likely in 2020 in what would be a public-private partnership.

She revealed that global mining group BHP Billiton, South Africa and Nigeria would probably be the main clients.