Prime Minister Hailemariam inaugurates Gilgel Gibe III Hydro-power Project

Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn inaugurated the third dam in the series of cascading hydroelectric projects in the Gibe-Omo basin, the Gilgel Gibe III dam, on Saturday (December 17). The Gilgel Gibe III dam (1870MW) is the third in a series of dams, which include the existing Gibe I (184MW) and Gibe II (420MW) dams. Two further dams, Gibe IV (1472 MW) and Gibe V (560 MW), are also planned. The whole series of projects is a demonstration of Ethiopia's firm commitment to become a regional hub for green energy.

The Gilgel Gibe III dam, which is the third largest hydroelectric plant in Africa, will increase the country's total installed capacity to 4,260MW. It is 243meters high, and has an installed generation capacity of 1870 Mega Watts. It is a roller-compacted concrete dam with 10 turbines, each with a generation capacity of 187MW; several started generating power last year. It is located 450km. from Addis Ababa in the South Nations Nationalities and Peoples Regional State.  The Salini Impregilo Group, an Italian construction company, conducted the civil works, while the Chinese-based Dongfang Electric Corporation (DEC) carried out the mechanical and electrical work. The construction cost of the project, was 1.5 billion Euros. The Ethiopian government covered forty percent of the total cost of the construction while the balance was covered by a loan, secured from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

At the inauguration ceremony, Prime Minister Hailemariam told over two thousand guests including senior government officials, Ambassadors, and representatives of the Salini Impregilo Group, that the occasion was an indication that moving from one success to another was becoming a tradition in the country. The Prime Minister noted that the dam would significantly increase the supply of renewable power in the country and also enhance regional integration through development of power infrastructure. About half of the power produced by Gilgel Gibe III will be used in Ethiopia; the other half will be exported to Kenya (500 MW), Sudan (200 MW) and Djibouti (200 MW). Kenya has signed a Memorandum of Understanding to purchase electricity from the dam and the World Bank approved financing for a transmission line to Kenya in July 2012. Underlining the government's focus on the development of green energy sources, Prime Minister Hailemariam underlined Ethiopia's total determination to realize its aim to reach middle-income status and become a renewable energy hub for Eastern Africa.

Engineer Azeb Asnake, the Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Electric Power, emphasized that Gilgel Gibe III would almost double the country's current hydropower supply and would have a significant impact in furthering its development efforts. Engineer Azeb added that the project would play a pivotal role in coping with the nation's increasing demand for power, a demand growing by over 30% a year. Following the inauguration, the Ethiopian Investment Commission Commissioner, Fistum Arega, said this renewable power project would accelerate the expansion of large scale manufacturing industries in Ethiopia. It provided additional power to address the country's growing demand. He noted that the cost of electricity in countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Bangladesh, which compete with Ethiopia in the textile sector, is four times higher than in Ethiopia. This, he said, created an additional opportunity for the country to offer available and reliable power for investors.

During the inauguration, the Chinese Ambassador to Ethiopia, Ambassador La Yifan, congratulated the country on the completion of the Gilgel Gibe III dam. This, he said, would strongly assist in raising the flow of Foreign Direct Investment to the country and significantly ensure increased access to power for citizens, as well as promising an industrial transformation in the country. Praising the government's political determination to realize the project, he called the dam "yet another landmark achievement in this country".

Pietro Salini, the Chief Executive Officer of the Salini Impregilo Group, said the Gilgel Gibe III dam would improve the technical capacity of local industries and technology transfer, in addition to assisting the overall economic growth of the country. He said workers from more than 30 countries participated in realizing the project, which represented an important engineering reference point at the global level because of the technical characteristics and number of workers involved.

Begun in 2008, the construction of the dam has, of course, been attacked by some local Kenyan and international environmental advocacy groups who claimed the project's environmental and social impact assessments were insufficient. These anti-dam groups came up with a series of unfounded and miscalculated negative claims about the possible environmental and social impact of the dam, particularly on people living around Lake Turkana in northern Kenya and along the Lower Omo in Ethiopia. They launched a series of political campaigns to try to prevent international organizations from becoming involved in funding the project, hoping to halt construction. The African Development Bank in August 2009 accepted calls by these organizations for its compliance review and mediation unit to review the dam's environmental impact, and therefore delayed any decision about a pending loan.

They also produced flawed "studies" and even succeeded to mislead a UNESCO committee, albeit a short-lived one. Indeed, the Ethiopian government withdrew its funding requests and decided to construct the dam by its own money. At the time, both the anti-dam groups and others thought that the project will collapse. In August 2010 Ethiopian former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi vowed to complete the dam "at any cost", saying about critics of the dam that "They don't want to see developed Africa; they want us to remain undeveloped and backward to serve their tourists as a museum." The growing Ethiopian economy, coupled with prudent fiscal policy and cost-effective construction methods, enabled the advancement of the project.

In fact, in response to the series of unfounded claims, Ethiopia responded by providing copies of reports both from its own and Kenya and a delegation composed of Water, Environment and National Heritage representatives, and of a joint mission by the World Heritage Committee and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which visited the area. Accordingly, the World Heritage Committee unanimously acknowledged that neither the Gilgel Gibe III Dam, nor the sugar projects impacted on the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site of Lake Turkana.