- The South African company Eskom and the UN environment agency UNEP today presented plans to dam the lower Congo River in a giant scheme to "industrialise Africa and sell electricity to Europe." The project is estimated to cost US$ 50 billion and generate some 40,000 MW, becoming the world's largest power plant.
Plans to harness the mighty Congo River to eventually generate enough electricity not only to power Africa's industrialisation but also to sell to southern Europe via a Mediterranean connector are being drawn up by one of Africa's biggest energy companies, UNEP said today. UNEP in general supported the plan.
- We calculate that hydroelectricity from the Congo could generate more than 40,000 megawatts, enough to power Africa's industrialization, said Reuel Khoza, Chairman of the South African-based power company Eskom Holdings. Surplus electricity would be sold to places like Spain and Italy in southern Europe via an inter-connector under the Mediterranean Sea, he added.
Mr Khoza, among a delegation of business leaders attending the "Africa Business and Sustainable Development" meeting at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, added that the idea had been suggested in the past, but was now gaining real political momentum under the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). Prospects of peace in the region were also concentrating minds.
The scheme, which will initially focus on the Inga Rapids near the river's mouth in western Congo Kinshasa (DRC), would generate more power than the giant power scheme's on China's Yangzi River. Previous plans have concentrated on the growing need for power and water in Southern Africa, but Eskom holds that the Inga Rapids plant will produce enough energy to supply southern Europe's growing demand of clean power.
The reason for UNEP to cooperate with Eskom in presenting the giant dam project is the environmental agency's promotion of clean and renewable energy sources. Under the Kyoto Protocol, which came into force last week, developed countries can off set some of their emissions at home by clean energy schemes in developing countries. Mr Khoza said it had been agreed that the Congo project would qualify for such carbon offset projects.
The Eskom Chairman said the plans envisaged engineering works that would siphon off the river, divert it through electricity-generating turbines, before funnelling the water back into the Congo. At least half if not more of the electricity can be generated in this way which, according to Eskom, "makes the project environmentally-friendly."
It remained unclear whether Eskom's plans for the Inga Rapids also included schemes to divert water to dryer regions south and north of the humid Congo Basin. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), where Congo Kinshasa is a member state, earlier has announced plans to use water from the Congo River to address the regional water deficit.
The SADC region is currently the fastest industrialising zone in sub-Saharan Africa. Both power and water deficits however are hindering a faster development. More than half of the population does not have access to neither a reliable clean water supply nor electricity. Power generation in the region is concentrated on polluting fossil fuels.
Eskom has yet to provide detailed information on the local environmental consequences of the giant Inga Rapids scheme. The extension of the damned area is still unaccounted for, as is the question whether parts of neighbouring Angola or Congo Brazzaville and historic sites of the ancient Congo Kingdom will be set under water by the dam. Also the consequences for regional fisheries and agriculture will have to be detailed.
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