Ethiopian Hydropower-Plant Output Halted by Tunnel Collapse

EthiopianReview.com | February 10th, 2010

By Jason McLure

ADDIS ABABA (Bloomberg) — Electricity output at Ethiopia’s largest hydropower generator, Gilgel Gibe II, has been halted after part of a tunnel that supplies water to the facility collapsed, the builder of the project said.

Production at the 420-megawatt plant may resume in two months, Salini Costruttori SpA, a Rome-based company, said in a statement on its Web site.

Gilgel Gibe II is powered by a reservoir at the Gilgel Gibe I dam in southwestern Ethiopia. Water is channeled through a 26-kilometer (16-mile) tunnel under a mountain before dropping 500 meters (1,640 feet) into the Omo River, according to a description posted on the Web site of Ethiopia’s Foreign
Ministry.

A geological event led to a “huge” rockfall involving about 15 meters of the tunnel, the company said. “Highly qualified personnel are already at work to ensure the earliest resumption of energy production.”

Ethiopia suffered frequent nationwide blackouts from January through September last year due to power shortages.

Meles Zenawi and officials from the state-owned Ethiopian Electric Power Corp. inaugurated the Gilgel Gibe II plant on Jan. 13. The project, which cost more than 5.2 billion birr ($388 million), increased the utility’s generating capacity by as much as 40 percent.

Misiker Negash, a spokesman for EEPCO, declined to comment on the collapse when contacted today by Bloomberg News. Andrea Scanzani, branch manager for Salini, said he couldn’t provide further details when reached on his mobile phone in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, today.

Environmentalist Opposition

Salini is also building the $2 billion Gilgel Gibe III power plant on the Gibe River, which has been opposed by environmental groups that say the project will harm indigenous people in the region and deplete Lake Turkana in northern Kenya.

Completion of the Gilgel Gibe II project had been delayed by two years after tunnel-boring equipment became repeatedly stuck and engineers had to redesign the tunnel’s path, according to International Rivers, a U.S.-based environmental group that has opposed hydropower programs in Ethiopia.

The project was funded in part by a 220 million-euro ($302 million) loan from the Italian government and 50 million euros from the European Investment Bank.

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