A file picture of Inga dam in DRC. Picture: REUTERS
A file picture of Inga dam in DRC. Picture: REUTERS

The $80bn Grand Inga project, aimed at generating 40,000 megawatts of power on the Congo river,  is overpriced and susceptible to corruption and other risks, an environmental lobby group says.   

The project, driven by three construction giants from Spain and China and expected to be funded by  the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the European Investment Bank, among others, has been embroiled in controversy since it was announced. This led to the withdrawal of the World Bank as a potential sponsor in 2016.

The hydroelectric project is not expected to begin producing power until 2024 or 2025. 

In 2014, the South Africangovernment approved the ratification of the Grand Inga Treaty with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The treaty would see SA buy more than  half the power generated by the first phase of one of the world’s biggest hydroelectric projects.

However, according to International Rivers, an organisation aimed  at protecting rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them, the project should be scrapped.

“The report on the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) tabled in the energy portfolio committee [recently] correctly cautions against importing… electricity from the planned Grand Inga Project in DRC,” the organisation said.

“This is to be welcomed. It is a reflection of growing opposition in SA and the DRC to the Grand Inga project that was agreed to during the Zuma era. Like the nuclear deal, the Grand Inga project is overpriced and susceptible to corruption and other risks.”

The IRP — the government’s long-term energy plan — which was out  for public comment until October  — suggests that there is no need for any new nuclear power to be added to the grid and envisages an overall reduction in coal-generated energy by 2030.

According to the draft plan, new installed capacity to 2030 will include: 1,000MW coal; 2,500MW hydro (imported); 5,600MW wind; 8,100MW solar PV; and a significant 8,100MW of gas.

International Rivers said it supported the view of parliament’s energy portfolio committee that the energy minister  Jeff Radebe should assess the impact of the Grand Inga project in the light of comments received from a number of stakeholders.

“We think it is particularly important that the minister and the public are made aware of the huge additional cost of importing hydro-electric power from the DRC,” the organisation said.

A 2017 study by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley found that importing power from Inga 3 would cost more than R400m per annum than domestic power generation. The study noted that SA could meet its future electricity needs more cheaply by harnessing its own solar and wind potential.

“This means that South African consumers will need to pay even more for their electricity in the years ahead [if the Grand Inga project proceeds], to the benefit of the Spanish and Chinese consortia, which stand to derive significant benefits from the project,” International Rivers said.

It said companies from those countries would benefit to the detriment of the 30,000 people in the DRC, who are set to be displaced by the project.

 “We didn’t need nuclear power, and we don’t need the Grand Inga project. The time has come to make decisions about our energy mix based on sound economic reasoning and humanitarian considerations,” the organisation said.

In its report on public hearings, the portfolio committee noted that stakeholders argued that there was no analytical basis for including power from Inga.  Some argued that the 2500MW of hydro should be removed from the final IRP, whilst others stated that if this was a political decision, then the security of supply from the DRC and all transmission lines to SA would also need to be taken into account in the final IRP.

The committee also recommended that the minister should ensure that the IRP focuses more on developing  local industries than the reliance on imported technology.

CORRECTION: November 12 2018

An earlier version of this story made reference to an R80m figure in the first paragraph, which should have been $80bn.