SADC in bid to revive Westcor

15 Oct 2010
 Windhoek - The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will drive a fresh initiative to revive Western Power Corridor (Westcor) by giving Southern African countries an alternative site to develop a hydro-power plant along the Inga River.The Southern Times has established that SADC has initiated a fresh gamble to develop a hydro-power project along Inga, after DRC scuttled Westcor’s 5 000 MW Inga III project last year.Westcor, which is in the process of being disbanded, comprises of national utilities from Angola, Botswana, DRC, Namibia and South Africa. The initial mandate of the five-member grouping was to develop a 5 000 MW hydro power station, known as Inga III. The Westcor project stonewalled after DRC authorities gave Inga III to mining giant BHP Billiton which wants the power to feed into its proposed aluminum smelter in the DRC.BHP proposed to build Inga III with partnership with the DRC government in a private public partnership and that it would give the remainder of the power to the vast, populous and mineral rich DRC.The DRC government scuttled Westcor’s Inga III after complaining that the project would benefit other SADC countries more, with little benefits to the country. Westcor, which targeted generating 5 000 MW, would have supplied 3 000 MW of electricity generated to South Africa’s Eskom and 1 000 MW to Angola, Botswana and Namibia by 2015.The Southern Times understands that the SADC Secretariat has directed that the DRC drive a new initiative which could be expanded to include other SADC member states such as Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, which had earlier indicated their willingness to be part of the hydro project.Options being considered include either reviving Westcor or coming up with a new project name and new structures altogether. SADC Executive Secretary Dr. Tomaz Salomao, who was in Namibia last week, said he had briefed SADC chairperson President Hifikepunye Pohamba about Westcor. He did not give details of his briefing.Sources said the DRC government would consider giving SADC countries an alternative site to develop the hydro-power project though details are still sketchy.DRC government last month wrote to Namibian national utility Nampower to second two names of Namibians who will sit on a new committee to oversee the new fresh initiative.Simson Haulofu, Nampower’s GM Generation and Selma Uutoni, a senior official in the Ministry of Energy will sit on the new committee.“The DRC is looking at other possible sites along the Inga River to be underpinned by a different memorandum of understanding (MOU). We are going to come up with a new MOU and a new committee is being set up to look into the whole process,” Haulofu told The Southern Times.“So far the initiative is open-ended which means it could involve other countries. We have countries such as Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe who initially expressed interest in participating but at the moment we do not know what format the new structure will take,” Haulofu added.Interested parties would have to come up with new agreements, and the envisaged project could be given a new name, Haulofu added.“The DRC want to drive the project themselves and they have been given that go ahead by the SADC Secretariat. SADC has conceded to let the DRC run the project. Its their natural resource, located in their country and it’s up to them.” Lack of investment in new generation capacity has resulted in countries such as Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa battling to meet rising demand for electricity.In addition, hydro power generation is perceived to be the cleanest form of energy generation and is also inexpensive compared to coal fired power stations. Hydro generation is less risky than nuclear energy generation which Namibia and South Africa are considering.SADC countries have long cast a keen eye on DRC’s Inga, whose hydro potential is as high as 100 000 MW. The long stalled Grand Inga alone could generate between 40 000 MW and 50 000 MW. It’s doubtful whether African governments alone could drive this massive project given the snail pace at which smaller generation projects are being developed due to inability to raise capital.