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Ethiopia’s biggest hydropower plant resumes operation after 11 months

Ethiopia’s biggest hydropower plant, without a dam, Gilgel Gibe II (GII), has resumed operation after 11  months since it collapsed in January 2010, state media reported.

The state Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) had closed GII due to collapse in its main tunnel weeks after it was officially inaugurated at the beginning of the year.

Energy authorities and the country’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had then said that maintenance was to be completed in two months but the costly work in the tunnel took almost the entire year, leading to unannounced power shedding for months.    

Geological incidents had caused a major slit in the concrete lining 9kms deep in the over 25kms long tunnel on 22 January, almost a week after inauguration and EEPCo closed the plant  25 January.

GII uses water from another dam constructed more than 26kms away for an existing power plant called GI. After it generates 180Mw at the older station, the water is channeled through 25.8kms long, 6.3m diameter concrete tunnel bowered through chains of mountains to generate 420Mw at GII.

Supported by a steep elevation, two 1,000m long metal penstocks at GII pour the water from the tunnel in the mid-height of a mountain down to the turbines at the bottom, increasing the turbine circulation and allowing the generation of more power.

Located 250kms south-west of Addis Ababa, GII was constructed by the Italian compant, Salini Costractori SpA, at a cost of 281 million euros (US$ 407 million) financing from Italy.

It was opened by Zenawi and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, on 13 January.

It was one of the three major hydropower plants Ethiopia inaugurated in the ending year.

Following a power crisis that led to a regular power shedding schedule for almost a decade now, the country has embarked on the construction of more than five ambitious power plants.

While the power shedding got so intense over the past three years, the prospect of ending the crisis with the commissioning of the new plant, like GII grew higher.

Nevertheless, the collapse of GII had made it clear the power crisis was not to end any time soon.

Ethiopia’s landscape and its river basins are said to have given the country a potential to generate over 46,000Mw hydropower but its current electricity generation capacity is 2,000MW, more than double from 2006.

The second most populous nation in sub-Saharan Africa has also signed agreements with Sudan, Kenya and Djibouti to sell power.  


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