South Africa’s Cabinet will in the coming weeks deliberate on the contents of a proposed treaty with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has been drafted in a bid to unlock the high-potential ‘Grand Inga’ hydroelectric power project, which has been under consideration for over four decades.
Speaking on Tuesday at an economic regulators conference in Ekurhuleni Department of Energy COO Thandeka Zungu revealed that the DRC government would also deliberate on the contents of the proposed treaty in the not-too-distant future.
The formal accord had been drafted by a technical committee, comprising senior officials from both countries, which was established following the signing, in November, of a Grand Inga memorandum of understanding (MoU) at a ceremony presided over by Presidents Jacob Zuma and Joseph Kabila.
Once ratified, it would create the framework for the implementation of the project and define project-execution milestones.
It was also viewed as a precursor to the initiation of negotiations on an implementation agreement for what would be the largest-ever cross-border energy project in the Southern African Development Community.
Zungu would not be drawn on the timeframe for the finalisation of the treaty, nor on when the engagements would begin on the implementation agreement. But she indicated that South Africa was keen for talks to begin before year-end.
Energy Minister Dipuo Peters indicated recently that she was considering the issuance of Ministerial determinations to open the way for further power generation projects in line with the Integrated Resource Plan for electricity.
The plan, which was unveiled in early 2011, envisaged the integration of 2 609 MW of imported hydroelectric power into South Africa’s power mix between 2021 and 2023. This initial capacity is expected to flow from countries such as Zambia and Mozambique. However, both Zuma and Peters have indicated that Grand Inga is receiving priority attention.
It is understood that Eskom and the DRC’s Société Nationale d'Électricité Société a Responsibilité Limitée, or SNEL, would also enter into an agreement which would facilitate the execution of the project.
Should it eventually proceed, Grand Inga could be developed, in phases, into a 40 000 MW of emission-free-power hub – almost equal to South Africa’s current installed base.
In fact, South Africa’s newly released National Development Plan 2030 argues that the project could even provide power, through interconnecting links, to southern Europe. To reach its potential, three major African interconnection projects would be required: the northern highway, between Inga and Egypt; the southern highway, between Inga and South Africa; and the western highway, between Inga and Nigeria.
But the project had already had a number of false starts.
Prior to the treaty process, the next significant phase was meant to have been developed by an entity known as Westcor, whose shareholders included DRC’s SNEL; ENE, of Angola; NamPower, of Namibia; the Botswana Power Corporation; and South Africa’s Eskom.
But progress on the proposed 3 500 MW to 5 000 MW ‘Inga III’ stalled, owing to DRC disquiet over the structural arrangements. It is understood that the MoU of last year was designed to reinitiate the Inga process under a regime that was more acceptable to the host country.