The World Bank has approved $340 million (about Rwf220 billion) toward financing of the long-awaited Rusumo hydropower project.
The project is expected to serve Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi.
The regional project is part of a Great Lakes regional initiative inaugurated by the World Bank’s President Jim Yong Kim and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during their joint visit to the region in May.
The visit was in support of a UN-brokered peace agreement signed earlier this year to help end conflict and crisis in DR Congo and to promote economic development in the region.
The power project, which has a total cost of $468 million (about Rwf300 billion), is expected to generate 80 megawatts to boost reliable power supply to the electricity grids of the three countries.
“This landmark project will have transformational impact, bringing lower-cost energy to homes, businesses, and clinics in Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania,” said Colin Bruce, World Bank’s director of strategy, operations and regional integration.
“By connecting grids, people and environmentally sensitive solutions, the project will help to catalyse growth and to encourage peace and stability in the sub-region.”
Rwanda last year unveiled Rwf3 trillion roadmap for energy production and accessibility over the next five years.
The target is to gradually tap 215MW from peat, 310MW from geothermal, 320MW from hydro power, and 300MW from methane gas, among others.
The project is expected to reduce electricity costs, promote renewable energy, spur job-led economic development and pave the way for regional integration and cooperation among the countries of the Nile Equatorial Lakes sub-region in East Africa, according to the statement from the Bank.
The power plant will be located at Rusumo Falls on the Tanzania-Rwanda border.
“The Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Project takes a regional approach to tackling sub-Saharan Africa’s power crisis, providing low-cost, clean, renewable energy to people in Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania,” said Jamal Saghir, World Bank director for sustainable development in Africa.
He added: “The new power plant shows the Bank’s commitment to keeping the lights on across the African continent, necessary for achieving growth, ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity in the region.”
At the moment, Rwanda produces 110.8MW, equivalent to 17 per cent in terms of domestic accessibility. The Energy Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA) maintains its target is to connect 70 per cent of Rwandan homes to electricity by 2017.
The power burden
Lack of access to electricity remains a big challenge to the region; according to available statistics only 17 per cent of the population in Rwanda has access to electricity, Burundi (four per cent) and Tanzania 15 per cent.
According to the World Bank, all three countries will benefit from jobs created by construction and installation activity associated with the power plant and the participating governments have demonstrated careful and responsible decision-making.
Works on the construction of the power dam are expected to start in the first quarter of 2014 and are expected to last five years.
Transmission lines will extend from the power generation plant to Gitega (Burundi), Kigali (Rwanda) and Nyakanazi (Tanzania).
The project seeks to strengthen the capacity of the Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Programme (NELSAP) and its emergence as a regional centre of excellence.
NELSAP is an investment pool under the Nile Basin Initiative, an intergovernmental water-resources group, comprising nations along the 4,200-mile Nile River.
“The project provides a fresh opportunity to unlock energy potential in the Great Lakes region, while safeguarding the environment,” said Paul Baringanire, the World Bank team leader for the project and senior energy specialist.
“We look forward to speedy implementation so that the idea of sharing natural resources for mutual benefits becomes a reality and helps to build economic opportunity for all communities in the Great Lakes region.”
In 2011, World Bank helped to provide electricity to an additional 1.4 million people in African countries.
Rwanda and the African Development Bank has also signed an agreement worth $41.5 million (about Rwf27 billion) to scale up energy access projects in the country.