JOHANNESBURG. — The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) should hit the brakes on the Inga 3 hydroelectric scheme and consider alternate ways of powering its mines and bringing electricity to its people.
The DRC can power its future — and become a model for energy development in Africa — by making visionary investments in small hydro and microhydro and solar energy, according to a high-level study by energy economics expert Tim Jones, whose work for the Jubilee Debt Campaign focuses on debt risks for countries in the global south.
His investigation into the Inga 3 hydroelectric scheme probes whether the dam will accomplish its goals. It finds Inga 3, in most scenarios, will sink the DRC deeper into debt, while other countries (notably SA) and international investors will reap the benefits.
Inga 3 is a proposed 4 800MW hydroelectric scheme on the Congo River at the Inga Rapids, the site of an ambitious six-dam project to be known as Grand Inga. Two smaller dams are already in place: Inga 1 (351MW) was opened in 1972 and Inga 2 (1 424MW) was commissioned in 1982.
When and if Grand Inga is completed it will generate about 40 000MW electricity, nearly twice as much as China’s Three Gorges scheme at 22 500MW.
Inga 3 has been engineered several times but indecision, mismanagement, misspending, intrigue, corruption, infighting and betrayal have conspired to keep the project at blueprint stage.
Jones’s report suggests Inga 3’s failure to progress to bricks and mortar may create breathing space for governments and developers to think more carefully about spreading the country’s required energy load among several doable, disparate electricity producers rather than one high-risk and probably unattainable monolithic complex.
Inga 3 advocates claim the project will lead to a significant increase in revenue for the Congolese government, which could then be invested in underfunded sectors such as health and education. But this is highly unlikely, Jones’s study finds.
“Under the most realistic median-case scenarios, Inga 3 would not even cover the DRC government’s debt payments for the project, let alone constitute a windfall that could fund development priorities. It would instead become a significant drain on the country’s finances,” the report reads. In addition to building the Inga 3 dam wall and hydropower plant by 2022, the project proposes a transmission line that would stretch more than 5 000km to SA, through Zambia and Namibia.
Human rights organisation International Rivers is concerned the power generated by Inga 3 will mainly benefit industry users and SA; it will not improve access for the more than 90 percent of the DRC’s population who live in the dark and will do so for at least the next 20 years.
“The DRC has suffered decades of civil war, during which corruption has become entrenched in the socioeconomic fabric of the nation,” says International Rivers.
“By many accounts, the country has acquired a reputation as a failed state.”
It also warns Inga 3 “stands to become a large-scale infrastructure of false ideals”.
According to the Jones report, the DRC needs reliable energy to power economic development.
“Although it is one of the most resource-rich countries in the world, the DRC suffers from great energy poverty. In 2012, only 16 percent of Congolese had access to electricity, and outside of big cities, this number drops to less than 6 percent,” the report says. That is fewer than one of every 15 people.
“This energy deficit stunts economic development, as evidenced by the DRC having the lowest GDP per capita of any country in the world in 2013,” according to the report.
Fairly conservative estimates of cost overruns at the Inga 3 dam and generous assumptions of electricity tariffs, capacity factor, transmission losses and interest rates would result in a loss of $618 million a year.
Project proponents claim Inga 3 will increase access to electricity in the country.
“Our analysis, however, shows that increased electricity access, if any, would be quite limited,” Jones says.
“The project will sell most of its electricity to SA and to mines in the Katanga region. In the median-case scenario, only 3 percent of electricity from Inga 3 would be available to non-mining businesses and residents of Kinshasa.
“Inga 3 would provide electricity for only 340 000 additional people in Kinshasa, without any impact on electrification rates in other cities and rural areas, where the need is greatest. Under the worst-case scenario, no power at all would be available for sale to consumers in Kinshasa.” — TimesMedia.