(Bloomberg) — Ethiopia’s government plans to start
generating electricity from its largest hydropower plant, Gibe
III, in the second half of the year if annual rains sufficiently
fill its reservoir, Water and Energy Minister Alemayehu Tegenu

The wet season from June through August should allow the
state-owned Ethiopian Electric Power Office, or EEPO, to begin
producing 187 megawatts of electricity from one of the 10
turbines installed at Africa’s tallest dam, he said by phone on
Tuesday from Addis Ababa, the capital. The dam is 243 meters
(797 feet) high.

“Gibe III will start power generation after the rainy
season,” Alemayehu said. “It will be this year.”

The 1,870-megawatt capacity Gibe III is the latest of four
large-scale Ethiopian dams built by the government since 2004 to
supply nascent manufacturing industries and produce surplus
electricity to sell to neighboring countries. Ethiopia is
seeking to capitalize on its hydropower-generating capacity of
45,000 megawatts, which the World Bank ranks as Africa’s second-largest after the Democratic Republic of Congo.

EEPO plans to bring a turbine online every month after the
plant starts generation, though that will depend on the amount
of rainfall in the Gibe-Omo river basin, Alemayehu said.

“If there is sufficient water in the reservoir it will be
possible to generate the maximum,” he said. “If there’s no
water, you will limit the number of turbines.”

Regulated Flow

The dam will store 11.8 billion cubic meters (3.1 trillion
gallons) of water that can be released downstream for power
generation or other purposes, according to the project’s
website. The Three Gorges Dam in China, the world’s largest
hydropower dam, holds 39.3 billion cubic meters.

Ethiopian officials say that in addition to power
generation, Gibe III will regulate water flows to end annual
flooding in the southwestern South Omo region and provide a
year-round supply for downstream irrigation projects.

The flow into Lake Turkana, which is mostly in neighboring
Kenya, will be reduced by about two-thirds for an estimated
three years while the reservoir is being filled, International
Rivers, a Berkeley-based non-profit organization that campaigns
against large dams, said last month.

The group also says that the approximately 28 percent of
the river’s annual flow drawn off for 150,000 hectares (370,658
acres) of Ethiopian state-owned sugar plantations in the South
Omo region will exacerbate shortages at Lake Turkana and
threaten the livelihood of as many as 300,000 people.

Gibe III’s electro-mechanical works were built by China’s
Chengdu-based Dongfang Electric Corp. using a $470 million loan
from the government’s Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
An electricity-transmission line from Ethiopia to Kenya may be
finished in 2018, Alemayehu said. The entire project cost 1.47
billion euros ($1.6 billion), according to the Gibe III website.

To contact the reporter on this story:
William Davison in Addis Ababa at

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Antony Sguazzin at
Paul Richardson, Sarah McGregor