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Ethiopia plans power exports to neighbours

A NASA Terra satelllite image released Feb. 11, 2003, shows a true-color image of the The Nile River Delta.

NASA/AFP

Ethiopia plans to sell power to Sudan, Yemen, Kenya and even Egypt, with whom it is at odds over the Nile's waters, as it ramps up power production to become a major exporter in the continent, its utility said.

It aims to produce 20,000 megawatts (MW) of power within the next 10 years, part of a plan to spend $12-billion (U.S.) over 25 years to raise power generating capability.

Ethiopia is also building a 5,250 MW dam along the Nile, while six other projects are either planned or under construction with an aggregate capacity of over 5,000 MW.

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"Whenever we are in a position to provide surplus [to Sudan] it could go up to 100 or 200 MW. This is the base of the first purchase agreement, but it depends on our capacity to avail extra power," Mihret Debebe, chief executive officer of the state-run Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

"The market has no limit [on exports to Sudan]"

Officials estimate that the hydropower potential of the nation – blessed with cascading rivers flowing through rugged mountains – is around 45,000 MW.

Mr. Mihret said Ethiopia had already started transmitting 50 MW to Djibouti, while exports to the eastern Sudanese towns of Gadarif and Gallabat were expected in one or two months.

Ethiopia will also provide 5 MW to Kenya's northern Moyale town next month, while an agreement has been signed to further connect to Yemen through Djibouti's underwater sea cable, Mr. Mihret said.

"The three countries have already signed a memorandum of understanding. Hopefully when the situation [in Yemen]stabilizes, we will proceed to this action," he said.

The Horn of Africa nation has also plans to construct a 1,300 km 500 kV transmission interconnector with Kenya to sell electricity to its southern neighbour.

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Ethiopia secured a multimillion-dollar deal with France this month for the scheme.

"The feasibility, preliminary design, selection of the best design option – all the background work has been done smoothly and will enter to the development phase [soon]" Mr. Mihret said.

Another project – a 3,000 km 500 kV line linking Ethiopia with Sudan and Egypt, is also planned.

A feasibility study has already been carried out under the auspices of the Nile Basin Initiative, a grouping of nine countries along the river, Mr. Mihret said.

"When the three countries are ready to start the project and development partners' financial allocation is in the right place, it will be started," he said.

"The fact that Ethiopia has expedited the development of generation projects in the basin with such mega scale is definitely making a reality the transmission line project," Mr. Mihret added.

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The nine countries through which the river passes have for more than a decade been locked in often bitter talks to renegotiate colonial-era treaties that gave Egypt and Sudan the lion's share of the river's waters.

However, six of the nine upstream countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi – have signed a new deal stripping Egypt of its veto and agreeing to renegotiate how much water each country is entitled to.

Mr. Mihret however, said Cairo has never had qualms over importing power.

"In terms of power flow they have never opposed. They are the key players," he said.

Mr. Mihret said regional projects of such scale would boost the economies of African countries, and added that Ethiopia eyed more projects in the future.

"Regional interconnection gives you more confidence in complementary power flow in terms of hydro-thermal links and power balance in the region," he said.

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