Sudan Sees Hydropower Boost After Protests Over Electricity Cuts

Sudan plans to boost electricity output by about 15 percent with new hydropower equipment in the coming year as power cuts in the capital spur sporadic protests.

A generating plant connected to Atbara and Steit dams in eastern Sudan will start operating in June, adding 320 megawatts to the national grid as it seeks to meet demand of 2,500 megawatts, Mohamed Abdel-Rehim Gawish, a spokesman at the Water Resources and Electricity Ministry, said in a July 23 interview in the capital, Khartoum. The facility is part of a project begun in May 2010 that was scheduled for completion in about 5 1/2 years.

“We want to exploit more hydropower resources to mitigate the high cost and frequent maintenance of the electricity thermal units” that burn fuel to generate power, Gawish said. The North African nation normally makes up its shortfall with imports from neighboring Ethiopia, which didn’t have surplus energy to supply over the past two months, he said.

Erratic electricity supplies have sparked unrest in the country of 37 million people, with residents in some neighborhoods of Khartoum taking to the streets in early July. Living costs can be an explosive issue in Sudan, under U.S. sanctions since 1997 because of its alleged support of terrorism. A rise in fuel prices in September 2013 led to protests against President Umar al-Bashir’s government in which rights groups say as many as 170 people died.

Al-Bashir held a special meeting with Water Resources and Electricity Minister Moataz Moussa on July 22 to discuss improving Sudan’s power capacity until 2020, the state-run SUNA news agency reported. Moussa suggested increasing electricity tariffs in a way that wouldn’t harm low-income households to fund potentially costly new power projects, SUNA said.

Net Importer

More than 60 percent of Sudan’s electricity -- about 1,250 megawatts -- is generated by Merowe Dam on the Nile River, 350 kilometers (217 miles) north of Khartoum, Gawish said. Two thermal power plants in Khartoum and one in White Nile state produce an additional 800 megawatts, he said.

Oil-producing Sudan lost about three-quarters of its crude reserves when South Sudan seceded in 2011. While it continues pumping oil in its southern border states, the country is now a net importer of the resource.

The new power project, including dams and generating stations, costs about $1.3 billion and has financing from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, China and Algeria, as well as Sudan, according to the Sudanese Dams Implementation Unit’s website.

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