Harare -Construction of the 2,400MW Batoka Gorge Hydro-Electric Scheme (BGHES) - a bilateral venture between Zimbabwe and Zambia - will start in mid-2021, the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) has said.
The ZRA is mandated with developing, operating and maintaining hydro-power on the stretch of the Zambezi River common to Zambia and Zimbabwe.
BGHES will be located 47km downstream of Victoria Falls.
According to the project environmental and social impact assessment report, construction is expected to last around nine years and will be undertaken in two stages.
The first stage will involve building of access roads and the permanent camps. This is expected to take no more than two years.
The second phase, which entails construction of the dam and power plants, is expected to take six to seven years.
The ZRA told The Southern Times Businessthat a consortium of Power Construction Corporation of China (PowerChina) and General Electric (GE) was developing the project on a build-operate-transfer basis.
Electricity from Batoka will be shared equally between Zimbabwe and Zambia, with excess fed into the regional grid.
“The authority continues to engage the consortium with a view to agreeing on key project legal and financial issues to pave way for the signing of the Concession Agreement. Construction works are expected to commence in June 2021 after mobilisation of the required resources by the Consortium,” the ZRA said in emailed responses to our enquiries on the project.
“The project developers, the consortium of Power China and GE together with the (ZRA) and the National Electricity Undertakings are currently undertaking activities leading to project development and construction.
“These include but not limited to packaging of project documentation to meet the requirements of financiers, additional geo-technical investigations, designs of the project components, identification and confirmation of sources of construction materials such as aggregates for the manufacture of concrete for the dam and power stations and the public disclosure of the results of the environmental and social impact assessment of the project.”
The ZRA said the COVID-19 pandemic had delayed some critical project processes, but the developer had been able to continue with the pre-development activities which include undertaking additional geotechnical investigations under strict health guidelines.
“The activities in China which include review of the feasibility studies and packaging them for mobilisation of project financing were temporarily suspended due to the need to limit the spread of COVID-19. The activities have however resumed.
“The public disclosure process of the ESIA results which was supposed to take place from mid-March 2020 was postponed commencing in September 2020 due to the need to limit the spread of Covid-19. Further, the public disclosure meetings will now be held using virtual means complimented by limited direct meetings which will be held in line with the WHO health guidelines.
“Public disclosure of the ESIA results ensures transparency in the manner in which the project will be developed as well as providing a platform for the public, interested parties and stakeholders to satisfy themselves that the issues and concerns raised during the public consultation phase were adequately attended to.”
Asked if any families would be relocated to make way for the project, the authority said the BGHES reservoir would be fully contained in a very steep and uninhabited gorge, meaning that the dam itself would not cause any human displacement.
“As such, only a few families living in the power line servitudes will be resettled in line with the already developed BGHES Resettlement Policy Framework. The process to identify the affected families so that detailed and specific Resettlement Action Plans or Life Restoration Plans are prepared is soon to commence as part of the outputs of the Environmental and Social Impact Management Plans (ESMP) under the nearly complete ESIA for the project,” it said.
BGHES is a renewable energy priority project under the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan and the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa.
“The reason being that the project, once completed will create additional energy generation capacity that will add to the existing capacity in the SADC region and also create transmission infrastructure that will make trading of electricity between member states under the Southern African Power Pool more efficient.
“In this regard, the development of the BGHESremains strategic to the energy development programs of the SADC region aimed at enhancing development, regional cooperation and integration. The project is thus central to the SADC Regions Agenda of supporting trans-boundary water storage infrastructure for poverty alleviation and regional integration,” the ZRA said.