Daily Sabah (Turkey)
Ethiopia starts generating power at giant Nile dam
The huge plant will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam upon completion, although Egypt, heavily dependent on the Nile for irrigation and drinking water, sees it as an existential threat while Sudan fears it would hurts its own dams
ETHIOPIA has started generating electricity from the controversial mega-dam that is being built on the Blue Nile.
The milestone was reached yesterday morning when one of the 13 turbines of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) began generating power in an event officiated by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
“From now on, there will be nothing that will stop Ethiopia,” Abiy said. Abiy described yesterday’s development as “the birth of a new era.” “This is a good news for our continent & the downstream countries with whom we aspire to work together,” he said on Twitter.
The dam will be Africa’s largest hydroelectric dam upon completion.
“We just started generating power, but that doesn’t mean the project is completed,” said Kifle Horo, the dam’s project manager, adding that it will take two and a half to three years to complete it.
The dam, which will have a total power generating capacity of 6,500 megawatts, has been a source of tension between Ethiopia and the other riparian states, Sudan and Egypt.
Ethiopia has already conducted two fillings of the dam, but the speed at which it will be filled and the amount of water that will be released during drought seasons remains unsolved.
Egypt fears a quick filling of the dam will reduce its share of Nile waters and seeks a binding legal agreement in case of a dispute. But Abiy said the dam would benefit Egypt and Sudan.
“We want to export our pollution-free electricity to Europe through Sudan and Egypt, so the way forward is cooperation among us. Ethiopia doesn’t want and intend to harm anyone else,” he said.
Ethiopia contends the $4.2 billion dam is essential for its development and will enable it to distribute power to its population of more than 110 million.
Several rounds of talks have been held in attempts to solve the stalemate.
The project is ultimately expected to more than double Ethiopia’s electricity output.
Only one turbine of 13 turbines is currently operational, with an installed capacity of 375 megawatts.
A second turbine will come online within a few months, Horo told Agence France-Presse (AFP) after the ceremony, adding that the project is currently expected to be fully completed in 2024.
The 145-meter (475-foot) high dam lies on Blue Nile River in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of western Ethiopia, not far from the border with Sudan.
Egypt, which depends on the Nile for about 97% of its irrigation and drinking water, sees the dam as an existential threat.
Sudan hopes the project will regulate annual flooding but fears its own dams could be harmed without agreement on the GERD’s operation. Both countries have been pushing Ethiopia for a binding deal over the filling and operation of the massive dam, but talks under the auspices of the African Union have failed to reach a breakthrough. “The newly generated electricity from the GERD could help revive an economy that has been devastated by the combined forces of a deadly war, rising fuel prices and the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Addisu Lashitew of the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The dam was initiated under former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the Tigrayan leader who ruled Ethiopia for more than two decades until his death in 2012.
Civil servants contributed one month’s salary toward the project in the year of the project launch, and the government has since issued dam bonds targeting Ethiopians at home and abroad. But officials on Sunday credited Abiy with reviving the dam after what they claim was mismanagement that delayed its progress.
“Our country has lost so much because the dam was delayed, especially financially,” project manager Kifle said in his remarks at the launch ceremony.
Those in attendance included first lady Zinash Tayachew, former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, the heads of the lower house of parliament and the Supreme Court, regional presidents and government ministers.
The process of filling the GERD’s vast reservoir began in 2020, with Ethiopia announcing in July of that year it had hit its target of 4.9 billion cubic meters (bcm). The reservoir’s total capacity is 74 bcm and the target for 2021 was to add 13.5 bcm.
Last July Ethiopia said it had hit that target, meaning there was enough water to begin producing energy, although some experts had cast doubt on the claims.
Kifle declined to reveal how much water was collected last year or what the target is for the coming rainy season.