Published On: Fri, Aug 19th, 2016

EXCLUSIVE: Cameroon defies critics in hydro drive

The Mekin dam under construction forms part of the Nachtigal hydroelectric dam being built on the Sanaga river, picture, CAJ NewsYAOUNDE, (CAJ News) – UNDETERRED by criticism from clean energy activists, Cameroon is intensifying its hydro-electricity drive as part of its ambitious plans to become an emerging economy by 2035. Such plans have received a major boost with the financing of the construction of the largest hydroelectricity dam in Cameroon.
The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) has pledged $1 billion in funding.
The Nachtigal Dam that will be constructed on the Sanaga River 65km from the capital, Yaoundé, will produce 420 megawatts of electricity – enough to satisfy a third of Cameroon’s energy needs.
Nachtigal Hydro Power Company (NHPC) will build the dam following the framework agreement between Cameroon’s government, French energy giant Electricité de France (EDF) and the IFC.
As per the agreement, EDF will hold 40 percent of the NHPC shares, while the Cameroon government and IFC will each hold 30 percent of the shares.
Project head Olivier Flambard said the dam would be 1.45km long and 15m wide.
EDF executive president Simone Rossi said his company would be involved in project design and implementation, ensuring that social and environmental impacts were minimised.
“We will lead the project through the construction phase, ensuring project co-ordination and management right through to the commissioning,” he said.
“It will be the biggest generation asset of Cameroon by 2020, and will generate at least 30 percent of Cameroon’s energy needs, so it will have a very positive impact on Cameroon’s energy system,” he said.
Cameroon, whose economy was forecast to grow by at least 5 percent annually between 2015 and 2018, is undertaking several electricity projects to ramp up power production to 3 000MW by 2030, up from 1 200MW.
The drive is fuelled by the country’s long-term development vision which sees Cameroon as an emerging country by 2035.
An emerging market is a country that has some characteristics of a developed market, but does not meet the standards to be a developed market. This includes countries that may become developed markets in the future.
“The energy sector will play a critical role in the realisation of this vision,” Minister of Energy and Water Resources Basile Kouna told CAJ News.
He said that the dam would enable a five-fold increase in Cameroon’s aluminium production by supplying power to a government-run smelting factory at Edea, 200km south-west of Yaounde.
Scarce energy supply had forced the company to cut production by 30 percent to about 60 000 tons.
The minister said the main objective of the project was to raise power supplies to industries and increase aluminium production to 300 000 tons per annum.
The development of the Nachtigal Dam is part of an integrated water management system on the Sanaga River Basin.
The basin holds 55 percent of the potential 115 terawatt-hours of hydropower production possible in Cameroon.
Already, the basin hosts the 263MW Edea and 396MW Song Loulou hydroelectric dams, as well as the Lom-Pangar reservoir dam upstream.
The Cameroon utility, Electricity Development Corporation (EDC), is implementing the integrated management approach to water resources management in the Sanaga watershed.
The EDC said it was necessary to establish a framework for integrated water resources management of the Sanaga that would provide sustainable development to benefit the nation and the economy.
However ambitious the projects, they have their own critics.
Terri Hathaway, of the International Rivers Network, challenged the wisdom of constructing another dam along the Sanaga River, which already has dams downstream – namely Edea and Song Loulou – that provided 95 percent of Cameroon’s electricity production.
She said the heavy dependence on hydroelectric power put Cameroon at great risk of economic disruption if droughts were to hit the river basin.
In 2007, low rainfall and drought resulted in the blackouts that provoked a wave of strikes across the country. The unrest in the Eastern Region led to the death of two students, who were gunned down during violent confrontation with security forces.
Clean energy experts said it would be sustainable for Cameroon to indulge in alternative sources of energy.
“If I were to advise the government, I would tell them to revert to renewable energy sources,” said Gilbert Achiri of Renewable Energy Services Company.
“Cameroon has an abundance of sunlight. We need just a little political will to convert this light into energy and don’t forget that it can be accessible even to citizens in the most remote areas,” he said.
Experts also proposed that higher management standards should be stepped up to avoid energy loss.
About 30 percent of Cameroon’s energy is lost in transmission.
Yet, authorities here are touting the Nachtigal Dam as a critical source of energy that will power the country’s industrial sector and households.
“The IFC will arrange the necessary financing package by liaising with other funding institutions. We have been doing this in Cameroon for quite a long time,” said Mehita Fanny Sylla of the IFC.
CAJ News

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