Forrest sets sights on reviving Congo’s hydro vision

Inga-1 hydroelectric dam. Credit: Wikipedia

Iron ore magnate Andrew Forrest is looking to help revive a long-delayed multi-billion dollar hydroelectric project in Africa as part of his strategy to move into green energy.

His Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. has held talks with the Democratic Republic of Congo for exclusive rights to develop the Grand Inga suite of projects, the Perth-based company said in a statement Tuesday, although no formal binding agreement had been yet concluded.

Forrest has set his sights on turning Fortescue, the world’s no. 4 iron ore shipper, into a major clean energy producer over the next decade and has been scouring the globe in search of investment opportunities. The company has said it will set aside as much as 10% of annual profit to invest in green initiatives.

The discussions with Fortescue may mark a further change in direction from the Congo government. Chinese and Spanish groups were appointed by former President Joseph Kabila in 2018 as co-developers of a project that’s eventually intended to harness as much as 40,000 megawatts of power from the Congo River.

However, Kabila’s successor Felix Tshisekedi, who came to power in 2019, has not approved their proposal and has said he would prefer a smaller-scale project. Spanish building firm ACS pulled out of the hydropower project last year.

For decades, plans have been made and discarded to construct a series of hydroelectric power stations on the Congo River that would generate almost twice the power of the Three Gorges Dam in China, the world’s largest. If completed, a Grand Inga dam could go a long way to addressing one of the most debilitating obstacles to development across Africa from Nigeria to South Africa — electricity shortages.

Yet Congo consistently ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world to do business and management of the project was criticized under Kabila for its lack of transparency. In July 2016, the World Bank halted a $73 million grant for environmental and social studies after Kabila put the Inga agency under his direct control.

Tshisekedi has vowed to connect half of the population to the grid over the next decade, and developing Grand Inga is one of his priorities, according to his advisers. Last year, he met officials from German turbine makers and natural gas companies looking to produce green hydrogen in his nation.

(By James Thornhill, with assistance from Kevin Dharmawan)


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