February 23, 2010 / 7:53 PM / 9 years ago

World Bank to delay Congo hydro project three years

* World Bank pushes date to 2016, seeks extra $300-$400 mln

* Plans to rehabilitate nine turbines instead of 10

* Seeks co-financing for two turbines from European banks

By Katrina Manson

KINSHASA, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Plans to boost the Democratic Republic of Congo’s power exports by refurbishing the neglected Inga hydro dams will be delayed for three years, scaled back in scope, and cost an extra $300-$400 million, a World Bank official said on Tuesday.

The project, seen as key to providing more electricity to remote central African states, had been intended to bring the Inga 1 and Inga 2 dams to full capacity of 1,700 megawatts by 2013 from their current output of 700 MW.

But the World Bank said poor consultants’ studies, implementation problems, and the effects of the world financial crisis mean the project will now aim to bring the dams to 1,300 MW by 2016 at an additional cost of $300-$400 million.

“It was supposed to be completed by 2013 so now the World Bank is going to its board to request an extension and additional finance,” Philippe Durand, lead energy specialist for Africa at the World Bank, told Reuters in an interview.

Congo is already a regional power exporter, though poor transmission infrastructure in the sprawling country means that less than 10 percent of its citizens has access to electricity. The Inga dams were built in 1972, but Congo has not rehabilitated any of its 14 turbines since.

Durand said $500 million of donor money has already been secured for the rehabilitation project — including $300 million from the World Bank - but that the World Bank was seeking co-financing for some of the additional costs.

“We are looking for co-financing for two turbines, which may come from some of the European banks,” said Durand, who added tenders would go out in September if the new deal is accepted.

Each of Inga’s degraded turbines can take up to two years to fix, and space to accommodate the hulking parts at the site in southwest Congo is limited.

The World Bank says it plans to repair four of six turbines at Inga 1 and five of eight at Inga 2. The World Bank had previously said it would rehabilitate 10 turbines in total, but only four at Inga 2.

The new plan to repair five turbines at Inga 2 could put the World Bank into conflict with a private investor already undertaking work at four of Inga 2’s eight turbines.

“We have already invested $24 million on emergency repairs to the second four turbines of Inga 2 and prepared a fifth as a back-up, ahead of a $140 million contract to rehabilitate the same four,” Georges Kyriakos, vice president of Mag Energy, an international energy company, told Reuters.

“No one has the right to touch our four turbines,” he added.

The World Bank’s Durand downplayed the potential conflict.

“The number (of turbines) doesn’t matter as long as we get started on a few,” he said.

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