Africa, Environmental, New Development

Power generation begins at 1,870-MW Gibe III hydroelectric project in Ethiopia

On the lower course of the Omo River in Ethiopia and built at a cost of US$1.8 billion, the 1,870-MW Gibe III hydroelectric project has begun generating electricity.

Gibe III consists of a roller-compacted concrete dam 797 feet in height; a reservoir that has the potential to reserve 14,700 million m3 of water; and a powerhouse on the left abutment, which houses 10 Francis turbine-generator units. Salini Impregilo S.p.A. built the dam.

The facility is about 94 miles downstream of the powerhouse for the 420-MW Gilgel Gibe II hydroelectric project and is the third plant on the Gibe-Omo hydroelectric cascade. Along with Gibe II, the 184-MW Gilgel Gibe hydroelectric project is also upstream of Gibe III. In addition to the first three facilities, the Ethiopian government said it has plans to build two additional facilities on the Omo River — the 1,450-MW Gibe IV and 660-MW Gibe V.

High-voltage transmission lines are being constructed from Wolyta Sodo, Ethiopia, to the Suswa substation near Naivasha, Kenya, to export power and the project should be complete by 2018.

Gibe III is expected to supply about half of its electricity to Ethiopia, with 500 MW being exported to Kenya, 200 MW to Sudan and 200 MW to Djibouti.

Lake Turkana, in northwestern Kenya, receives 90% of its water from the Omo River and environmental activists have been campaigning against Gibe III, according to published reports. The activists say as the reservoir fills, flow from the Omo River into the lake will be reduced by about two-thirds for three years, which could threaten the livelihoods of as many as 300,000 people.

Gibe III will increase Ethiopia’s power generation capacity by 234%, according to Cabinet Affairs Minister and former Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Alemayehu Tegenu.