Built in 1972, the Inga I dam in the Democratic Republic of the Congo does not operate at capacity due to lack of maintenance.
At this dam site and at a newer one, replacement of aging turbines has been on hold for a decade due to a lack of financing.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has launched a new initiative to fast-track construction of the delayed $12-billion Inga III hydropower project on Africa's Congo River despite skepticism that the project may never be implemented.

The World Bank, however, appears more supportive of a new 80-MW dam on the border of Rwanda and Tanzania, announcing on Aug. 6 that it will provide $340 million for the Rusumo Falls regional hydroelectric project, which will provide power to those countries and Burundi.

Congo has been seeking, since May, potential financiers to invest in the 4,800-MW Inga IIII project, says Bruno Kapandji, the country's water-resources and electricity minister. It is the first of six potential phases of the ambitious $80-billion Grand Inga hydropower scheme, set to generate an estimated 40,000 MW when fully completed.

In late June in the capital of Kinshasa, the minister told a meeting of potential private-sector financiers and energy buyers that South Africa already has committed to buying 2,500 MW of Inga III electricity, while Namibia has expressed interest in signing a similar agreement for an undisclosed capacity.

Congo also signed two agreements in June with the African Development Bank to set up of structures to implement the hydropower project. A team led by Electricité de France has completed a $15-million project design with bank financing.

The site has two existing dams—the 351-MW Inga I and the 1,424-MW Inga II—which were constructed in 1972 and 1982, respectively, but now operate below capacity due to lack of maintenance and corruption in the country's energy sector.

Vika di Panzu, a member of the Inga III steering committee and CEO of Congo’s state-run utility Société Nationale D’Electricité, says Inga “is the most powerful hydropower site in the world" after China’s Three Gorges Dam and, on the Brazil-Paraguay border, Itaipu.

The Congo River drops 102 meters in elevation over 15 kilometers at the site. The waterfall’s total flow range is estimated at 30,000 cu m per second during the dry season and up to 55,000 cu m per second during the peak wet season.

The utility esimates turbine water flow at 6,300 cu m per second, making the site the most appropriate for developing a project of such magnitude, officials say.

Investors Wooed at Paris Meeting

Kapandji says the June forum on Inga III followed a May meeting in Paris of international lenders, led by the World Bank and the African Development Bank, at which participants backed the proposal to mobilize project funding.