28 June 2013

Inga Dam 3 - Finally Going Forward For Real?

Inga Dams on the Congo River in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRoC) - 2 exist, a 3rd is planned and then there is Grand Inga Dam - an ambitious project that makes engineers drool because it will exceed the megawatt capacity of Three Gorges in China. It will also benefit Africa as a continent. The CNN article (thanks Joe!) below suggests that DRoC is actually going through with negotiations to begin construction on Inga 3 in 2015. No tender yet, but you know the Chinese are on it.  
Inga dams are located on a part of the Congo River that has something like 11% of all hydro potential in Africa - maybe the world, I forget. There is a steep drop in the Inga Falls and a rushing of water there that if harnessed, could electrify all of Africa! This is what is written in reports, and I don't know enough to deny it. Sounds really positive, like a dream for development needs on the continent. Low carbon output involved, harnessing the otherwise deemed useless rivers in Africa - thank you European colonialists for being so positive. And that DRoC is stable enough to go ahead with this is hugely encouraging about what is happening in many African countries. The Ethiopians are calling it a Renaissance. I would like to agree. 
There are some obstacles. The electricity grid in DRoC has been stripped of copper, so there would need to be big-time investment in the grid to carry the electricity out of Congo. Electricity is lost over distance unless there are additional pieces of infrastructure to handle the transformation of the energy over space. More investment. With Chinese companies now in the game of providing such hardware, this is more than a pipe dream, but will require some time. There are some folks living in the area that will have to go if the project is approved and moves forward. But from what I remember researching on this more than 5 years ago - the population is very small of permanent residents, but still this is something to consider. And who lives downstream? Always the question of who matters and why...
I also remember looking at the engineering plans. The dam would be built in a diversion - the water is already diverted north of the falls through Inga Dams 1 & 2. They aren't at full operating capacity for many technical reasons, though a Canadian mining firm invested in some dredging activity on one of the dams some years ago. The electricity currently generated goes to two places, I believe. Kinshasa, for domestic use, and to mining operations, mostly foreign owned.
What has stopped Inga in the past? The original dams were commissioned in 1970s and 80s if I remember correctly. Since then there has been massive political instability in DRoC, including the little talked about wars that took more than $5 million lives (on estimate). Digression: this period is sometimes called World War III or the African World War - because of the comparison in lives lost and nations involved. There was a point where rebels controlled Inga dams to get demands met in Kinshasa. 
Here is to hoping that this announcement in Paris signals a turning point in DRoC's internal affairs. I think DRoC still has one of the world's highest reported rape incidents per capita, per minute. But, the World Bank is making positive comments about the economic potential linked with quality of life improvements - it's got to be valid - and my sarcasm aside - it is undeniable that if DRoC and neighboring countries all the way down to South Africa can connect up to huge amounts of electricity from the Inga Project seeing it's full design (to include Inga's 3 and Grand), as well as get the existing dams working up to full capacity again, and extending the electricity grid toward different destinations, this will change the face of the continent. So many people have high hopes for Inga Dams in the near future.

Will 'world's biggest' hydro power project light up Africa?

By Teo Kermeliotis, for CNN
June 28, 2013 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
The government of the DRC is seeking to harness the power potential of the Congo river by building Grand Inga, expected to be the world's biggest hydroelectric project when completed.The government of the DRC is seeking to harness the power potential of the Congo river by building Grand Inga, expected to be the world's biggest hydroelectric project when completed.
Harnessing the mighty Congo

  • DR Congo moving ahead with plans to build the world's biggest hydroelectric project
  • When complete, Grand Inga could have a massive capacity of 40,000 megawatts
  • Project construction will begin in October 2015
  • But critics argue that the project will only serve the mining firms and not benefit the rural poor
(CNN) -- The world will have seen nothing like it.
It is being hailed as the holy grail for power, the biggest hydroelectric project ever built that would harness sub-Saharan Africa's greatest river and light up half of the continent.
But will the ambitious plan to tame the mighty Congo River, a mega-project first conceived in the 1970s, finally get going and what will be its actual impact?
Last month, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo announced in Paris that the construction of the first phase of a new set of energy projects at the country's Inga Falls would begin in October 2015. The new $12 billion development, dubbed Inga 3, is expected to have a power output of nearly 4,800 megawatts (MW), with South Africa agreeing to buy half of the electricity generated.

Grand Inga site. Click to expandGrand Inga site. Click to expand
But the DRC government's bold vision ultimately involves five further stages that would complete the "Grand Inga" mega-project, giving it an astonishing capacity of 40,000 MW -- that's twice as much as the Three Gorges dam in China, currently the world's largest hydro project.
When completed, Grand Inga could provide more than 500 million people with renewable energy, say its proponents.
"A myth dreamed of for 40 years, Grand Inga is becoming a reality with an action plan spread over several plants which will be added in stages," the DRC government said in a statement after the Paris meeting.
Powerful river
With a length of 4,700 kilometers, the Congo is Africa's second biggest river, after the Nile, and the world's second largest river in terms of flow, after the Amazon. At the Grand Inga site, some 1.5 million cubic feet of water flow steadily through a network of cataracts every second, dropping about 100 meters to form the world's biggest waterfall by volume.

Ethiopia builds infrastructure for growth

Zambia's investment in infrastructure
Yet the power potential from the river's rapids has largely gone unexploited in a country plagued by violence and corruption for decades -- just 11.1% of the DRC's population has access to electricity, according to the World Bank.
So far, the only two projects built to tap Congo's potential are two smaller dams -- Inga 1, commissioned in 1972, and Inga 2, a decade later. Both of them are almost exclusively used to provide energy for the mining companies in the southern DRC's copper belt but are currently undergoing extensive rehabilitation as they perform far below capacity.
Seeking funds
The DRC government hasn't yet decided on the developer of Inga 3, but three consortia from China, Spain and Korea/Canada are the frontrunners in the competitive selection process. The financing will come from both public and private sources: the Africa Development Bank, the World Bank, the French Development Agency, the European Investment Bank and the Development Bank of Southern Africa have all been named as potential contributors.
But will the DRC, a country with a risky investor profile, be able to raise enough money to build the mammoth project? Some say that with $12 billion required just for Inga 3 -- the entire project has an estimated cost of $80 billion -- it's going to be an extremely tough and complex task to find the huge sums needed.
It almost defies imagination that this kind of money is going to be available.
James Leigland
"It almost defies imagination that this kind of money is going to be available," says James Leigland, technical adviser to the Private Infrastructure Development Group. He notes that several different players will "have to come to the party with equity," from multilaterals, commercial and national development banks to the DRC government and the developer of the project.
"It is hard to imagine how all of this is going to fall into place," says Leigland. "They've started, they've made a commitment to proceed on the basis that South Africa will take a huge amount of the power, but getting from here to there it's just a very long road," he adds.
Transferring power
Indeed, the pledge by energy-hungry South Africa to purchase about half of Inga 3's future power production is essential for the project to attract finance and get going.
The two countries are currently negotiating a treaty to finalize the details of a power purchasing agreement, including the construction of transmission lines to transfer 2,500 MW of Inga 3's production to South Africa. The exact routing of the energy corridor is not yet defined, but it is expected to be over land, through different countries in the southern part of the continent.
A World Bank spokesperson told CNN that such power exports could potentially raise considerable revenues for the DRC. "With energy resources on this scale, DRC can play a pivotal role in meeting not only its future domestic energy needs for poverty reduction and economic development, but also the energy needs at regional and continental levels," said the spokesperson.
Development of projects like Inga 3 and subsequent Grand Inga is essential for growth, more jobs and improved well-being in Africa.
World Bank spokesperson
"With only one in 10 Congolese households having access to electricity, development of projects like Inga 3 and subsequent Grand Inga is essential for growth, more jobs and improved well-being in Africa."
Power to the people?
Yet, not everyone agrees. With half of Inga 3's power traveling south, and nearly all of Inga 1 and 2's energy bypassing the DRC's rural communities to be consumed by the mining industry, critics say the country's poor will see no benefits from the project.
"All the electricity that will be generated from Inga 3 is for commercial purposes and nothing is going to supply the communities," says Rudo Sanyanga of International Rivers, an NGO working against destructive riverside projects.
"The assumption being promoted is that by developing Grand Inga and exporting, or supplying the mines, will then create jobs in the mining industry and it will trickle down to the community -- but it has never worked," adds Sanyanga.
Instead of pouring billions into mega-schemes, the group argues there are less costly and more effective solutions that can be deployed to tackle the continent's energy poverty, especially wind, solar and micro hydropower projects.
"They should prioritize decentralized energy and have a combination of grid and off-grid planning," says Sanyanga. "If they really want to get electricity to the people, not only in the rural areas but as well as in the cities, they have to have another plan which is cheaper than grid development."

22 June 2013

Tanzania Also Thinking About Nile Debate - Questions Egypt's Position of No Dialogue

Please find the link to a recent article from Tanzania on the Nile issue. I find it interesting that the other Nile basin countries are calling for communication on behalf of the Egypt-Ethiopia dam issue. The Blue Nile, to remind, traverses Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt. This is where the dam is being constructed and so it is not impacting the entire basin directly through the dam. Impacts, whatever they have been determined to be by the experts and engineers, will be directly felt in Sudan and perhaps Egypt. But the indirect impact of the GERD project is regional. The electricity generated is one thing, but the move for an African country that has been at peace for 8 years to engage in such an ambitious project, this is sending waves out across the nations, calling their attention to their own issues more soberly - realizing that the world has changed and there is a new moment to embrace.

21 June 2013

Erroneous "Facts" About Xayaburi Dam Leave Me Wondering What the Agenda Is?

It is quite alarming to read such an article as the one pasted below. This thing has more than quite a few pieces of misinformation reported as "fact" from "experts". One may ask why the issues that are being highlighted are being pushed forward in the constant discourse about Xayaburi, rather than some of the very big issues that local people are dealing with already. I would ask such experts to be more responsible in their statements rather than putting forward their point of view without doing their homework. I just finished up field work on the ground at some of the villages in question. There are some very real issues to address, but if you confuse the problem with poorly researched "fact" the issues will in fact not be addressed until it is too late.

If you want to be an advocate and help people, get your reported numbers and issues closer to reality first (for instance, no one actually knows much about the fish migrations in this section of the Mekong) and then move beyond this: open other's eyes to the real issues - the ones out of our control. Maybe not so sexy and easy as pointing at the Xayaburi dam? Why is the fish catch so much less than it was 5 years ago - so much so that people cannot support their families on what they are pulling out of the Mekong in the Xayaburi area? Why are the water levels so erratic in the last 5 years? The dry and wet seasons are no longer predictable, which means the fish catch is no longer predictable, nor the growing season. How are the people in the resettled villages adjusting psychologically? Are there services for their mental health in readjusting from hunter/gatherer to farmer and fish farmer? Can people really survive subsisting on the Mekong in the 21st century? What about the lignite power plant in Sayabouri Province? The Sino-hydro project in tributaries in the north? The massive storage dams in the Yunnan Province?

Yes, Xayaburi is exporting 80% of the energy away, the benefits of the project, but the government is exploring benefits sharing. Small scale energy generation is usually floated in contrast to larger dam projects. I am not sure that mainstem damming is any less disruptive and problematic to downstream countries like Cambodia, then the myriad tributary dams going in all over each country. There are studies that suggest many small scale dams are actually more damaging than one large dam. In any case, dams disrupt water flow and change the hydrologic regime, which changes everything attached to it: people, wildlife, biotic and aquatic systems. This is known. My suggestion is that we should think about identifying solutions to real issues, such as the questions above, that are not completely raised in this article. And write about them if we are going to write about anything. Science and reporting to make a point or sensationalize something hurts local people much more than it helps them. 

On Friday, June 21, 2013 2:31:21 PM UTC+1, Moderator wrote:

*Dams Threaten Mekong Basin Food Supply*

BANGKOK, Jun 20 (IPS) - The future of food security in the Mekong region lies at a crossroads, as several development ventures, including the Xayaburi Hydropower Project, threaten to alter fish migration routes, disrupt the flow of sediments and nutrients downstream, and endanger millions whose livelihoods depend on the Mekong River basin's resources.
Running through China, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Laos, Thailand and Cambodia to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, this is Asia's seventh longest transboundary river.
An estimated 60 million people live within the lush river basin, and nearly 80 percent depend on the Lower Mekong's waters and intricate network of tributaries as a major source of food.
But if all goes according to plan, 88 dams will obstruct the river’s natural course by 2030. Seven have already been completed in the Upper Mekong basin in China, with an estimated twenty more either planned or underway in the northwest Qinghai province, the southwestern region of Yunnan and Tibet.
Construction of the 3.5-billion-dollar Xayaburi Dam on the Lower Mekong in northern Laos is the first of eleven planned dam projects on the main stem of the Mekong River, with nine allocated for Laos and two in Cambodia.
Construction began in 2010 and as of last month the project was 10 percent complete.
At best these development projects will alter the traditional patterns of life here; at worst, they will devastate ecosystems that have thrived for centuries.
Over 850 freshwater fish species call the Mekong home, and several times a year this rich water channel is transformed into a major migration route, with one third of the species travelling over 1,000 kilometres to feed and breed, making the Mekong River basin one of the world's most productive inland fisheries.
Large-scale water infrastructure development projects such as hydropower dams have already damaged the floodplains in the Lower Mekong and in the Tonlé Sap Lake in Cambodia, affecting water quality and quantity, lowering aquatic productivity, causing agricultural land loss and a 42-percent decline in fish supplies.
This spells danger in a region where fish accounts for 50 to 80 percent of daily consumption and micronutrient intake, Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia programme director for the non-profit International Rivers, told IPS.
Locating alternative protein sources such as livestock and poultry is no easy task and would require 63 percent more pasture lands and more than 17 percent more water.
"Cambodia is the largest fish eating country in the world. Get rid of the fish and you're going to have serious problems because there is not enough livestock in Cambodia and Laos to compensate for the loss,” Trandem said.
With a total population of over 16 million, the Mekong Delta is known as the 'rice bowl' of Vietnam. It nurtures vast paddy fields that are responsible for 50 percent of national rice production and 70 percent of exports.
This low-lying delta depends on a natural cycle of floods and tides, with which Vietnamese farmers have long synchronised their planting and harvesting calendars.
Now, experts like Geoffrey Blate, senior advisor of landscape conservation and climate change for the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Greater Mekong Programme in Thailand, say this delicate ecosystem is vulnerable to changes brought on by global warming and mega development projects.
The telltale signs of rising sea levels and unprecedented salt water intrusion have already put Vietnamese communities on red alert, while sudden changes to the water flow caused by incessant damming has resulted in “increased precipitation and heavy downpours during the rainy season," Blate told IPS.
If all the dams are built, experts estimate that 220,000 to 440,000 tonnes of white fish would disappear from the local diet, causing hunger and leading to a rapid decline in rice production.
Electricity over sustainability?
Citing a shortage of energy, Thailand’s leading state-owned utility corporation, EGAT, signed an agreement to purchase 95 percent of the Xayaburi dam’s anticipated 1,285 megawatts (MW) of electricity.
Six Thai commercial banks comprise the financial muscle of the project, while construction is in the hands of Thailand’s CH. Karnchang Public Company Limited, with some support from the Laotian government.
But energy experts like Chuenchom Sangarasri Greacen, author of Thailand’s Alternative Power Development Plan, have poked holes in the claim that the dam is required to meet growing energy needs.
Thailand is a net importer of electricity, but a lot of it is utilised wastefully, he told IPS, adding that countries like Laos and Cambodia have a much more immediate need for electricity: the World Bank estimates that only 84 percent of the population in Laos and 26 percent in Cambodia have access to electricity, compared to 99.3 percent in Thailand.
But instead of developing their own generation capacities, these governments have chosen export projects that profit corporations over people.
“Thailand is creating a lot of environmental, social and food issues for local communities by extending its grid to draw power from beyond our borders,” Greacen said.
Already, roughly 333 families from villages like Houay Souy in north-central Laos, who were moved to make way for the dam, are feeling the first hints of greater suffering to come.
Once a self-sufficient community that generated revenues via gold panning and cultivated their own riverbank gardens to produce rice, fruits and vegetables, villagers are now finding themselves without jobs, very little money and not enough food.
“The villagers’ primary source of food was fishing and agriculture. In their new location, about 17 km away from their old homes, they were given small plots of agricultural land but not enough for their daily consumption needs,” said Trandem.
“Ch. Karnchang never compensated them for lost fisheries, fruit trees or the riverbank gardens that were washed away. Their new homes were built with poor quality wood, which was quickly eaten into by termites, so what little compensation they did receive went to fixing their new homes,” she added.
These families, numbering about five members per household, are now barely surviving on 10 dollars per month and symbolise the gap between so-called poverty alleviation programmes their impact on the ground.
“The Laos government claims that dams will generate revenue but in reality…projects like Xayaburi basically export benefits and profits away from the host country while smaller projects that are more economically sustainable are being ignored,” says Greacen.
She believes the Laotian government should explore small-scale renewable energy projects like biomass and micro-hydro plants that would attract local investment and directly serve local populations.
Blate also suggested building diversion canals for smaller dams, rather than obstructing the main stem of the Mekong River.

19 June 2013

Poyri Off the Hook for Xayaburi Work, Finnish Government States Publicly

Looks like the assessment done by the Finnish group Poyry is legit, despite European's call to the contrary. The Finnish government has stated officially that the Poyry group followed standards and protocol in their work in Laos. They had a scope that is not inclusive of all vulnerable elements in the dam site and also were not as transparent as they could have been, but were within legal bounds. I am not sure what started off this accusation that the group did not do it's work correctly, but it seems that groups wanting Xayaburi off the table are being super critical of any aspect involved. Including the competence of the engineers and scientists working on the project.

The reality is the project is going to go through. I believe that instead of working against the project, people who are opposed should look to find ways to help mitigate social and environmental costs and suggest them to the Lao government. Also, I believe this dam highlights some very critical environmental, social, and climate issues in the region that need further research and understanding. Without the advent of the dam, would these issues have gone unnoticed until a point of no return?

Ministry of Employment and the Economy
18.6.2013 10.15

Statement of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy: Pöyry Oyj complied with OECD guidelines in Laos dam project

Pöyry Oyj did not violate OECD Corporate Social Responsibility Guidelines in its dam project in Laos. However, companies should assess the risks of similar projects more carefully and act more transparently in the future. This recommendation is contained in the statement issued by the Ministry of Employment and the Economy.
The statement concerns the actions of Finnish consultants, Pöyry Oyj, and its Swiss auxiliary Pöyry Energy AG in the Xayaburi dam project in Laos. Commissioned by the government in Laos Pöyry has carried out a technical comparison of the original project plan for the hydropower plant and the recommendations given by the Mekong River Commission. Pöyry has not done any project planning or environmental assessment or social impact assessment relating to the project. A year ago, a total of 15 non-governmental organisations filed a complaint to the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, claiming that Pöyry Oyj had not complied with OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The NGOs felt that when studying the environmental and human rights impacts of the dam project, the company had not paid sufficient attention to its negative effects.
The statement states that as a leading company in the sector, Pöyry had influence on the progress of the project. However, Pöyry operated within the confines of a relatively limited assignment, which for example restricted its possibilities of hearing the statekholders.
Pöyry should have addressed the ambiguities related to environmental issues and human rights more clearly in its report to the government of Laos. However, the company made an effort to mitigate the environmental risks and negative impacts of the project by means of several detailed recommendations, even if the various parties disagree upon whether or not these actions were adequate.
The Ministry of Employment and the Economy recommends that in the future, companies should assess the risks of similar major projects more carefully and give more consideration to stakeholders' views. They must ensure adequate communication about risk prevention measures.
The statement only evaluated compliance with OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and not, for example, the scientific basis and adequacy of the studies produced by Pöyry. The OECD recommendations provide voluntary principles and standards for responsible business conduct consistent with applicable laws in international business. The Ministry of Employment and the Economy, together with the Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility, is the Finnish National Contact Point with the duty to promote compliance with the guidelines. The Ministry requested the views of the Committee for its statement.
The statement can be accessed on the Ministry of Employment and the Economy website at www.tem.fi/OECD-yksittaistapaukset (The English translation will be published later.)
For more information, please contact:
Senior Counsellor Jorma Immonen, Ministry of Employment and the Economy, tel. 029 506 4689

18 June 2013

Claims that Coffee Stifles Creative Thinking!

Just for something a bit different, but interesting. I am in the throws of dissertation writing. I usually drink tea all morning, and water all afternoon/night. I just started drinking coffee this week again, BUT am cautious as my relationship with coffee sometimes does more harm than good - racing heartbeat, restless sleep, acid stomach. Lovely list of symptoms resulting from coffee abuse.

Over the years, I find that I crave two things when writing for intense long periods - fizzy water and sunflower seeds (instead of cigarettes I suppose). Maybe I was onto something...but while at OSU I was leaning on coffee big time.

A blog article from Smithsonian Magazine claims that coffee is actually not good for creative thinking, thus not good for successful working on my dissertation I'd say! Of course the article is followed by a link to a story about Elephant Poop coffee. How credible is this?

Working In a Creative Field? Despite What You May Think, Coffee Is Not Your Best Friend

Photo: Doug Wheller
A coffee in hand as you pour over the news. A coffee in hand as you ride the subway to your co-working hub. A coffee to get the juices flowing while you brainstorm, sticking colorful Post-Its on the board. Ask nearly anyone in a creative profession the three things they can’t do without, and aside from a computer and smartphone, the top response is probably going to be coffee. But Maria Konnikova has some bad news for you, caffeine-loving creative professional: you’re doing it wrong.
Writing for the New Yorker, Konnikova surveyed the science of creative thinking:
Science is only beginning to unravel the full complexity behind different forms of creative accomplishment; creativity is notoriously difficult to study in a laboratory setting…
Still, we do know that much of what we associate with creativity—whether writing a sonnet or a mathematical proof—has to do with the ability to link ideas, entities, and concepts in novel ways.
Challenging problems can be cracked in different ways—through hard work and a systematic slog, or through a flash of creative insight. But if you’re waiting for your eureka moment, says Konnikova, you may want to lay off the coffee.
Caffeine “boosts energy and decreases fatigue; enhances physical, cognitive, and motor performance; and aids short-term memory, problem solving, decision making, and concentration,” says Konnikova. But to string together seemingly unconnected ideas to spur a creative insight, you need your brain to relax. Creativity, says Konnikova, “depends in part on the very thing that caffeine seeks to prevent: a wandering, unfocussed mind.”
Coffee can still play a role in your work flow, helping you to really get down to business when you know what needs to be done and all that’s left is to crack it out. But when you’re relying on that next flash of insight, trade out the double espresso for something that lets you relax and gets your mind wandering.

More from Smithsonian.com:

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