As tensions rise, Ethiopian minister says Grand Renaissance Dam could begin generating next year

Ethiopia’s controversial dam on a main tributary of the Nile River may begin generating electricity as early as next year, according to a government minister, say reports.

Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s water and energy minister, made the comments after visiting the project, known as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Bekele said the project had shown remarkable progress after the replacement of the Metals and Engineering Corporation (Metec), a state conglomerate run by the Ethiopian military, by international contractors, reports Ethiopian news website Borkena, citing the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC).

His statement came amid a rise in tension between Ethiopia and Egypt, which relies on the Nile for nearly all its water, after talks earlier this month failed to settle the issue of how much the river’s flow would be disrupted during the filling of the GERD reservoir.

Seleshi said more than 96% of the spillway and the saddle dam were complete, the main dam had reached 145m height, and work had begun on filling the void in its centre with concrete. So far, 8 million cubic metres had been filled, according to Borkena/EBC.

The saddle dam is an auxiliary structure built to contain water in the reservoir.

The latest round of talks between Ethiopia and Egypt, and including Sudan, took place over 15-16 September in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, but failed again to reach a satisfactory settlement on how fast the GERD’s reservoir should be filled.

Egypt wants the reservoir to be filled in a seven-to-10-year timeframe, limiting the disruption to the river’s flow, but Ethiopia has rejected that plan, preferring its three-year timeframe, according to Egypt Today.

Another round of talks are scheduled for October, Egypt Today reported.

Egypt Today also reported that Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said he had started what the news outlet called "diplomatic escalation" to bring other countries in to influence the long-running standoff.

Meanwhile, Abreham Belay, the general manager of Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP), gave a press conference on Wednesday (25 September) in which he said that two turbines in the left powerhouse were half complete, and could start generating 740MW of hydroelectric power as early as next year. According to Belay, the entire project is now 68% complete.

The 6,450MW dam is being built on the Blue Nile, one of two main tributaries to the main Nile River, in the Benshangul Gumuz region of Ethiopia, near the border with Sudan. Work began in 2011 and was due to be completed within five years.

After Metec was removed from the project in August last year (see Further reading), EEP hired China Gezhouba Group to execute the pre-commissioning activities and Voith Hydro Shanghai to carry out electrical, mechanical, and various civil and structural works. Full completion is now expected in 2022.

Image: Work under way on the Renaissance Dam (Jacey Fortin/CC BY-SA 4.0)

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