From: Tom Maliti, Associated Press
Published February 24, 2005 12:00 AM

South African-Led Consortium Plans Congo River Project to Nearly Double Africa's Electricity Output

NAIROBI, Kenya — A South African-led consortium plans a Congo River project it says would nearly double the continent's current output without harming the environment, a senior South African business executive said Thursday.


However, the challenges ahead of the US$50 billion (euro37.9 billion) include fears of more instability in Congo, which is struggling to put a five-year, six-nation war behind it.


The project will generate about 40,000 megawatts of electricity and will be activated in phases over a yet-to-be determined period of time, said Reuel Khoza, chairman of South African power company Eskom.


Africa uses between 40,000 megawatts to 50,000 megawatts of electricity, Khoza told journalists. That amount, however, is only a fraction of the continent's demand, which Africa's dilapidated utilities are unable to meet.


He said that in the first phase, Eskom _ together with the power utilities of Angola, Botswana, Congo and Namibia _ will rehabilitate and upgrade two dams along the Inga rapids on the Congo river within four to six years and generate about 9,500 megawatts of electricity for 12 southern African countries.


The Inga rapids are in western Congo.


Congo has had a shaky transitional government since July 2003 when warring parties began implementing a political power-sharing deal and it has struggled to extend its authority beyond the relatively stable west to the vast country's often lawless east.


The power-sharing agreement ended a five-year six-nation war in Congo that killed nearly 4 million people, mostly through starvation and disease.


Khoza said that despite Congo's political problems, the project will work and will not be another white elephant project in Africa.


"I know that the challenges are mammoth ... there's no question about that," Khoza said. "If it's a white elephant, it is an edible one."


At least half of the project's electricity will be produced through a process that diverts river water through electricity-generating turbines before funneling it back into the Congo river.


This makes the project environmentally friendly, said Khoza.


He said that the consortium is now finalizing plans for the project, which includes the possibility of selling surplus electricity to Spain and Italy through an interconnector under the Mediterranean Sea.


Khoza's announcement comes after energy ministers from Angola, Botswana, Congo, Namibia and South Africa signed an agreement in October for a joint power project to provide low-cost electricity.


The project will be funded in part by the respective governments under the New Partnership for African Development, a program adopted by the African Union for the economic development of Africa.


Source: Associated Press


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