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Chinese firms dominate bid to build Congo dam

[JOHANNESBURG] Chinese and Spanish developers that want to build Africa's biggest hydropower plant in the Democratic Republic of Congo agreed to form a single consortium in an accord the country says is a crucial step to realising the plan.

The US$14 billion dam is part of a long-delayed project known as Grand Inga that's eventually intended to harness as much as 40,000 megawatts of power from the Congo River. Inga III would generate 11,050 megawatts, meant primarily for South Africa, other African markets and Congo's copper and cobalt miners.

Former president Joseph Kabila in 2018 appointed two Chinese and Spanish groups that had competed for the project as co-developers. However, his successor, Felix Tshisekedi, has yet to approve their proposal and it's not clear whether they'll be granted exclusive rights to finance technical, environmental and social studies, as well as attract lenders.

Following the withdrawal of Spanish building firm ACS earlier this year, the new accord signed this month brings the developers together into a consortium that comprises six Chinese companies, including China Three Gorges and a unit of State Grid, and AEE Power Holdings Sarl of Spain.

'CRUCIAL STEP'

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"A crucial step has been taken toward the start of Inga III," Bruno Kapandji, the head of Congo's Agency for the Development and Promotion of the Grand Inga Project, or ADPI, said by email. "Inga III is becoming a reality. The unification is part of the exclusive development agreement that was signed in 2018."

At the same time, Congo "remains open to receiving other developers that have the required capacity and proven experience with similar projects", Mr Kapandji said.

Nobody answered the phone at the offices of China Three Gorges in Beijing while emails to China Three Gorges and State Grid weren't immediately answered. A spokesperson of AEE Power Holdings declined to comment.

Mr Tshisekedi said last year that he prefers to begin construction of an earlier, smaller version of the project with a capacity of 4,800 megawatts that could be expanded later - a plan that was endorsed by African Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina, who urged Congo to proceed with the project. The Chinese and Spanish groups believe the smaller plant isn't economically viable.

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