Interview of Miheret Debebe, Chief Executive officer, Ethiopian Electrical Power Corporation: Energy can be Ethiopia’s biggest export (The Africa Report n°39 – April 2012)

In the process of building a series of huge hydroelectric dams and wind farms, Ethiopia’s state-run electricity company is gearing up to begin exporting to its neighbors.

The Africa Report: What is the current electric power generating capacity of Ethiopia?

Mihere Debebe: The capacity is defined in two aspects. One is the megawatt capacity, which is about 2,100MW of installed capacity. The other is the energy potential, which is currently 7,300 MWH, depending on the availability of water.

TAR: The country is working on mega electric-power projects. How are they progressing?

MD: In terms of hydro, the Great Renaissance Hydro Power Project will generate 5,238MW of power. The second is Gibe III, which will generate 1,900MW. The third is the Genale Daw project, which will generate 270MW. We also have wind power projects in Ashegoda and Adama of 120MW and 50MW, respectively.

TAR: How much do you need to fully accomplish these projects? Is it a challenge?

MD: The programme demands more than $2bn per year. Financial resources [come] from government equity, the power sector’s self-financing, multilateral banks, our development partners and local banks. Reducing imports by enhancing the role of local construction, manufacturing and engineering industries is essential. Local industries are now taking a greater market share and making more contributions. But Europeans still have the major share. It is growing from our development partners in Asia. [Finance] from the power sector itself will hopefully grow with the start of power exporting.

TAR: Did the African Development Bank reject your loan request for the construction of Gibe III dam owing to concerns over its environmental and social impact?

MD: The fact is we withdraw from the bank. The bank is our big development partner. What matters is our time objective for our faster development target. We have said it repeatedly: all our projects are designed taking into consideration environmental and social impacts, national and trans-boundary. We are open to any dialogue raised within the process.

TAR: How are Ethiopians benefiting in terms of access to electricity?

MD: Ethiopia’s access to electricity is approaching 50%. Per capita energy consumption is growing fast. The service and industry sectors have 70% energy consumption; the remaining 30% go to the domestic sector and others. We have arrived at 32%o growth in annual energy demand. This has occurred not only due to expansions of towns or rural electrification, but also because of the people’s changing living standards.

TAR: How are you expanding the transmission network?

MD: The grid expansion includes up to 500KV. It is the first [of its] type regionally. The plan is to expand the transmission line up to 18,000km from the current 10,000km. These dominant projects will consume 35% of the $2bn we require per year.

TAR: You have recently started exporting power to Djibouti. What are your plans for regional interconnection?

MD: Djibouti has started taking 70-80% of its energy demand from Ethiopia. Now, because of our capacity to deliver, it is worth $20m-$30m a year. This sector will be one [Ethiopia’s] leading exporting sectors in a few years.

On a bigger scale, the Ethio-Sudan interconnection has some technical and contractual challenges to resolve, but the job is already done. In the north, [transmission] between the Ethiopian town of Metemma to Shehedi, then Galabat and Gedaref in Sudan should start soon.

The interconnection to Kenya is a mega African project. Financing is near completion. What remains is the tender preparation and selection of contractors. Hopefully it will be commissioned before 2016 and, at 1200km, will be one of the largest African regional electric highways. It is designed to carry a minimum of 400MW and a maximum of 2,000MW.

TAR: What is your long-term power plan?

MD: Generating 10,000MW by 2015 is our five-year strategic plan. There is preparation going on for the 10-year development programme.

Interview by Yohannes Anberbir, in Addis Ababa

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