21 April 2008

Botswana: Govt Still Committed to Inga Project

The inaugural financiers conference for the much-vaunted Inga3 hydroelectric project to be constructed on the Congo River in the western Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) will take place in London today and tomorrow.

The Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources Ponatshego Kedikilwe said in an interview on Friday that he would attend the meeting.

Kedikilwe says although focus is currently on other power projects like the Mmamabule Coal Fired Power Station and Morupule B, Botswana is still fully committed to Inga3.

The Inga project is considered the first stage within a far larger 'Grand Inga' scheme, which project proponents believe could deliver up to 75,000 MW of much needed low-carbon electricity over the next two to three decades."This is an important project for the future," says Kedikiwe. "It is for our children, our grand children and their children."

Inga 3 comprises four parts. It could deliver up to 4,500 MW of electric power by 2015. Its promoters hope construction will begin during 2010 should funding be available.

The CEO of the Western Power Corridor (Westcor) Pat Naidoo, who heads the Botswana-based utility driving the initiative, was quoted in Miningweekly last week as saying that a preparatory meeting would be held over the weekend ahead of the funding workshop.

The workshop will be under the stewardship of the Secretary General of the World Energy Council (WEC), Gerald Doucet.

This meeting will involve high-level representatives from the utilities and governments participating in Westcor, which falls under the Southern African Power Pool and has been set up as a joint venture owned by the power utilities of Angola (ENE), Botswana (BPC), the DRC (Snel), Namibia (Nampower) and South Africa (Eskom)."There is a lot of interest in the project and we are increasingly confident that we will be able to raise the $5 billion to $6 billion required (for Inga 3)," Naidoo revealed at a gathering organised by the South African National Energy Association, ahead of his departure for the UK.

He acknowledges, though, that there is still some skepticism about the project, given that it has been on the continent's electricity agenda for more than three decades.

But he argues that the difference this time around is the confluence of supportive energy, environmental and political factors that have hitherto been absent. Most notably the emerging peace and stability in the sub-region, the prevailing electricity crisis in southern Africa, and a desire among development finance institutions to bankroll low-carbon electricity initiatives.

Initially, Westcor will be seeking to raise $30 million to complete a bankable feasibility study for the hydro scheme itself, as well as a further $30 million for a detailed design of the transmission system.

It has already received numerous expressions of interest from leading engineering organisations keen to participate in detailed feasibility studies which Westcor wants to see finalised during either 2008 or 2009.

The project is also robust enough to be advanced on commercial terms, with the power purchase agreements from all five shareholders underpinning the financial viability.

However, Naidoo adds that there is also real potential to attract energy-intensive investment into the West Coast as anchor off takers, hinting at preliminary talks with BHP Billiton which currently operates aluminium smelters in South Africa and Mozambique.(Additional information from Miningweekly)

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