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The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has issued a deadline for the multibillion-dollar Inga 3 hydropower plant. For the first time since it was announced a decade ago, the project has an “exclusive development agreement”. The project has been on the drawing board for about 30 years, but has seen repeated delays.

“There have been tenders, lots of meetings, lots of promotional activities, but it’s only today that we have for the first time a legal document,” Bruno Kapandji, director of the Agency for the Development and Promotion of the Grand Inga Project (ADPI) told the media on the signing of the development agreement.

The accord calls for the creation of a single consortium by the Chinese and Spanish consortia which have been co-operating since last year on an “optimised bid” on how to bring the project to fruition. The Chinese group includes China Three Gorges and State Grid International Development, while the Spanish partners comprise Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA and AEE Power Holdings.

The government has issued the deadline of 10 November for the consortia to hand over a joint proposal that includes a financial model and timeline. According to Bloomberg, the groups have undertaken to finance extra technical studies, as well as assessments of environmental and social impacts, to update those done for an earlier 4 800MW version of the project.

They will also attract lenders to finance the facility, which could cost as much as $18-billion, and help Congo find buyers of the electricity elsewhere in Africa. The Congolese government will grant the special-purpose vehicle formed by the groups a concession to construct and manage Inga 3.

The Inga 3 project is part of a program to expand hydroelectric dams along the Congo River. The first phase of the Grand Inga Hydro-power Project will make it potentially the world's largest. The overall project eventually intends to harness as much as 40 000MW of hydroelectric capacity. The new agreement with the Spanish and Chinese consortia will result in the production of 11000MW.

The Congolese government will have a 5% free stake in the project, while the joint consortium will control the company and other investors will be brought in to hold 19% of the shares. The plant will take as long as eight years to build.

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