DRC's controversial Inga 3 hydropower project receives IDA technical assistance grant

Inga 3 Hydropower Project

The World Bank Group's Board of Directors approved a US$73.1 million International Development Association (IDA) grant to the Democratic Republic of Congo for the Inga 3 Basse Chute and Mid-size Hydropower Development Technical Assistance Project earlier today.

The bank said the funding, combined with previous financing from the African Development Bank (AfDB), will be used to provide "world class expertise to support DRC to develop its large hydropower potential, estimated to be the third largest in the world after China and Russia".

"Inga 3 is undoubtedly the most transformative project for Africa in the 21st Century," DRC Prime Minister H.E. Matata Ponyo Mapon said. "It is one of the strategic pillars of development for the DRC, that needs energy to expand growth and reduce poverty in a sustainable way."

The 4,800-MW Inga 3 project is one component of DRC's 40-GW Grand Inga project. The Inga 3 phase would divert about one-sixth of the Congo River's flow into the Gundi Valley, where a dam on the Bundi River would create a reservoir with a surface area of about 15.5 kilometers square. The land area to be flooded per MW generated would be among the smallest in the world, according to the World Bank.

The current technical assistance project does not include any construction or operation activities, the bank said, nor has a decision been taken on whether the World Bank Group will support the $14 billion plant's eventual construction.

Instead, the bank said, the project will finance a number of environmental and social assessments shaping the project's development, including a cumulative impact assessment.

The project will also establish the Inga Development Authority -- an "autonomous and transparent" body designed to "follow best international practices in selecting the private concessionaire and negotiating power purchase agreements."

"By being involved in the development of Inga 3 from an early stage we can help ensure that its development is done right so it can be a game changer by providing electricity to millions of people and powering commerce and industry," said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Africa. "Supporting transformative projects that expand people's access to electricity is central to achieving the World Bank Group's twin goals of helping to end extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity."

Per the bank, 1,000 MW of power generated by Inga 3 would be sold to utility Societe Nationale d'Electricite (SNEL), which would in turn sell it to households and small businesses in the Kinshasa region.

1,300 MW of power would be sold to mining companies in DRC's Katanga Province, with the other 2,500 MW going to South Africa.

"Today's decision on IDA support for the technical assistance project is an important stepping stone to develop Inga 3 and mid-size hydropower in DRC," said Bernard Sheahan, director of Infrastructure and Natural Resources at the International Finance Corporation. "The level of investment for Inga 3 is so high that neither the public sector nor the private sector alone could finance the full cost of development of the project.

"We look forward to working with our colleagues in the World Bank to help the government of DRC attract private financing to responsibly develop Inga 3."

The project has not been without controversy, however, as groups like water resources watchdog International Rivers have questioned the allocation of Inga 3's output.

"By approving Inga 3, the World Bank shows it has not learned lessons from the bad experience of previous dams on the Congo River despite its claims to the contrary," said Rudo Sanyanga, Africa Director for International Rivers. "The bank is turning a blind eye to the DRC's poor governance and is taking shortcuts to the environmental assessment of the project."

International Rivers also fears Inga 3's direct impact on DRC's general population -- only 9% of which has access to electricity -- would be diminished with power sales to mining companies and South Africa.

Instead of medium and large hydropower plants, International Rivers said, the World Bank should focus on developing solar, wind and small hydroelectric projects.

"We will continue to push the World Bank and the DRC government to support clean local energy solutions rather than Africa's next white elephant," International Rivers policy director Peter Bosshard said.

HydroWorld.com reported in November of this past year that the AfDB had approved US$68 million in financing to be used by the Inga Site Development and Electricity Access Support Project (PASEL) to support Inga 3's development.

DRC also recently recruited expressions of interest from consultants to perform additional feasibility studies for the project.

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