A much-delayed $1.8 billion (Sh163 billion) dam project under construction along Ethiopia’s Omo River could begin generating power by June and be fully operational by early 2016, an official said on Thursday.
Gilgel Gibe 3, will nearly double the country’s energy output, helping to resolve chronic power outages and sustain a booming economy.
Work started in 2008 and was due to be completed around three years later, but the project has faced funding shortages over concerns about its environmental impact.
Critics of the project say it will reduce water flow and devastate the fisheries of Lake Turkana, which is fed by the Omo. Ethiopian officials admit criticism led the European Investment Bank and African Development Bank to turn down a request to disburse funds.
The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China stepped in four years ago with a loan of $500 million (Sh45.3 billion) to pay for turbines.
Azeb Asnake, the chief executive officer of the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, dismissed the concerns, saying Ethiopia’s research suggests regulating river flow will stabilise fluctuating water levels.
“If they read these studies, they would not continue with their arguments,” she said.
Ethiopia plans to spend $12 billion to tap the rivers that cascade down its craggy highlands over the next two decades in a bid to beat energy shortages and become Africa’s biggest power exporter.
“88 per cent of the work for the Gibe 3 hydro-power project has already been completed,” Ms Azeb said.
Two of ten units would be ready by June, Azeb said, while one additional unit would come on line each month after that. Upon completion, the project will generate 1,870 MW of power.
The country’s economy is expanding by nine per cent a year, and the dam is part of an infrastructure plan aimed at sustaining that growth. A bigger project, the 6,000 MW Grand Renaissance Dam, is being developed along the Nile.