March 31 (Bloomberg) -- Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said opponents of hydropower projects in poor countries are “bordering on the criminal,” amid plans in his country to boost output from the energy source as much as five-fold.
“We all agree that we have to fight and conquer poverty,” Meles said at a conference today in Addis Ababa, the capital. “To do that, we have to make massive investments in infrastructure, including power generation.”
Ethiopia has a hydropower potential of 45,000 megawatts, the second-largest in Africa after the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the World Bank. Under a five-year plan, the country plans to boost power generation to as much as 10,000 megawatts and expand electricity coverage to 75 percent of the population from 41 percent now.
Meles’s government has faced criticism from conservation groups including London-based Survival International and International Rivers, based in California, for ignoring environmental concerns over the under-construction 1,870-megawatt Gibe III project. International Rivers said the project may be “one of Africa’s worst development disasters” because of the harm it may cause people in the south of the country.
The views of Western critics are “ironic” as Ethiopian facilities are “infinitely more environmentally and socially responsible than the projects in their countries, past and present,” Meles said. At stake in the debate is the “future of millions of people in Ethiopia and elsewhere on the continent,” he said.
Africa needs to invest more than $90 billion a year to address its infrastructure gap, according to the World Bank.
“Hydropower will have to be at the center of Africa’s energy future,” Meles said.
Yesterday, Ethiopian Water and Energy Minister Alemayehu Tegenu announced plans to build a hydropower plant in the Nile River basin that will generate 5,250 megawatts of electricity.
The facility, known as the Grand Millennium Dam of Ethiopia, will be built at a cost of 80 billion birr ($4.76 billion) and be situated in the Benishangul-Gumuz region near the border with Sudan, Alemayehu said. Some of the power may be exported to neighboring Sudan and Egypt, he said.
Egyptian politicians who oppose such projects in the Nile basin that “have beneficial impacts on all,” are as “irrational” as those in rich countries who oppose the plans on environmental grounds, Meles said.
Africa’s second-most populous nation has suffered frequent power outages even as three power plants came online in the past two years. Demand for power is expected to increase by as much as 32 percent annually, according to Ethiopian Electric Power Corp., or EEPCo, the state-owned monopoly provider.
The country is also working to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2025, which will be achieved partly by reforesting 15 million hectares (37.1 million acres) of land, Meles said.
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