US$5bn Batoka power project to boost Zim revenues: ZRA

MTHANDAZO NYONI

ZIMBABWE and Zambia are set to benefit from revenue of over US$750 million annually from the 2 400MW Batoka Gorge Hydro-Electric Scheme (BGHES) project – a bilateral venture between the two neighbouring countries, the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) has said.

ZRA is spearheading the project after engaging a consortium of Power China and General Electric in July 2019 for the construction of the BGHES project, which is estimated to cost up to US$5 billion.

The bilateral project is located within the Batoka Gorge, 47km downstream of the Victoria Falls. In an update on the disclosure of the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) studies report for the development of the project, ZRA chief executive Munyaradzi Munodawafa said the multi-billion dollar project will economically benefit the two countries.

“The Authority is pleased to note that some stakeholders have also started positioning themselves to take advantage of the planned construction of the Batoka Gorge Hydro-Electric Scheme,” he said.

“The Hwange Rural District Council in Zimbabwe is making plans to develop a multi-million-dollar iconic city near the project site so as to take advantage of the economic benefits which will arise from the implementation of the BGHES.”

“A similar project is expected to be unveiled by the Mukuni Development Trust in Livingstone, Zambia. Such undertakings will bring about numerous indirect jobs to benefit thousands of Zambians and Zimbabweans,” Munodawafa said.

“The Authority therefore foresees major economic benefits which will positively impact the two countries and generate revenue of over USD$750 million annually which will enhance the GDP of the two contracting states,” he said.

As part of efforts to ensure the sustainable implementation of this multi-billion-dollar hydropower project, a broad range of specialist studies have been undertaken including the updating of the 1993 Engineering Feasibility Studies (EFS), which have since been completed, and the preparation of the ESIA report and the associated Environmental and Social Management Plans (ESMP).

A draft ESIA report has since been developed and is currently undergoing disclosure to interested and affected stakeholders as well as the general public for them to provide comments and concerns regarding the planned development of the scheme.

ZRA said the first phase of the disclosure exercise for the draft ESIA report was concluded early December 2020.

Munodawafa said among the mitigation measures highlighted during the disclosure meetings include the decision to limit the dam height to 175m instead of building the dam to the top of the gorge, so as to prevent the water backflow from reaching and impacting areas of special interest such as the Victoria Falls, the existing ZESCO Limited Power Station, the Victoria Falls and Mosi-o-Tunya National Parks.

The other measures highlighted included the adopted reservoir operation rules that were developed with a view to ensure the balancing of power generation whilst allowing for the continuation of other river-based activities and environmental flows (e-flows).

The ESIA report disclosure and stakeholder engagement process will continue up to the closing date of January 25, 2021 for receiving concerns and comments regarding the planned implementation of the project.

“Overall, the stakeholders engaged during the disclosure process expressed optimism that the 2 400MW BGHES will bring about social and economic benefits for the peoples of the two Republics, especially the host communities,” he said.

He said the 4 000 direct plus 6 000 indirect jobs to be created during the construction of the Batoka project infrastructure has been welcomed by stakeholders who are eagerly awaiting its commencement during the fourth quarter of 2021.

The host communities will be given priority for them to fully take advantage of the construction and tourism sector work and business opportunities the project will present including under the associated supply chains and service industries.

In the meanwhile, the project will also improve access to electricity amongst the host communities and add to the electricity generation capacity of the two countries for driving their respective socio-economic development programmes, he said.

According to the project ESIA 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.