New plant to bring regional power on stream

Clean energy for the continent and beyond - that's the aim of five Southern African Development Community (SADC) members who have joined forces to build a 3,500 megawatt power plant on the Congo river.

South Africa's Eskom, the Botswana Power Corporation, Angola's Empresa Nacional de Electricidade (ENE), NamPower of Namibia and Societe Nationale d'Electricite (SNEL) of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) - have formed the Westcor Power Project.

The project aims to provide low-cost, affordable and environmentally friendly electricity to ensure that economic development in the region is not constrained by capacity shortages.

The first phase will cost an estimated US $4 billion, according to a report by the South African parastal, Eskom, and includes the building of a 3,500 megawatt Inga III hydropower station in the DRC, with interconnections for about 3,000 km of power transmission lines to supply the five Westcor countries.

"Inga III is the third of four hydropower plants to be developed along the Congo river. It has very little environmental impact, since it is on the run of the river and does not require any damming," the report said.

A further phase - beyond Inga III - is Grand Inga, with a potential output of some 39,000 megawatts. The plan will eventually extend to building hydropower stations in Angola and Namibia.

"The project enjoys full support from all the SAPP [Southern African Power Pool] members," the report noted.

The SAPP is a regional body established by the SADC member countries, consisting of the public utilities of each SADC country. SAPP is charged with creating a common market for the region's electricity output.

Depending on the outcome of the feasibility studies, the project should be commissioned in 2010.

"All the five utilities have co-operated and have worked relentlessly hard to ensure that this project comes into fruition, and are providing the initial funding for the pre-feasibility studies, including committing expert skills from the utilities to work on the founding documents," the report added.

Eskom spokesman Fani Zulu said the benefits of getting Inga III and Grand Inga going would be "massive".

"If you have done the Inga project completely, it has the potential for supplying the whole of the continent with clean energy, and even to export some power out of the continent," Zulu said.

The project is in line with the SADC Energy protocol and SAPP objectives, as well as being a New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) project that is supported by the African Union.

"One of the challenges of Nepad is to develop fully the energy resources of the continent. The argument here is that you need to deliver the energy services to stimulate economic and social development - electricity has to ... lead the economic and social development," said Zulu.