Zambia and Zimbabwe are planning to retender the Batoka Gorge hydropower project with an estimated value of $5bn and a capacity of 2.4GW, Bloomberg has reported.

The Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), a joint venture between the two countries, is set to receive bids by April 2025, with the new potential developers expected by September of the same year.

The ZRA, which maintains the Kariba Dam complex, is preparing for an influx of proposals from interested developers.

The Batoka Gorge hydropower plant is planned for a site on the Zambezi River, 54km downstream from Victoria Falls, straddling the border between the two nations.

The project was initially awarded to General Electric (GE) and Power Construction Corporation of China (Power China) but has since been subject to retendering.

Originally set to commence in 2020, it has faced multiple setbacks including the Covid-19 pandemic and challenges in obtaining financial backing.

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In June 2023, Zambian Energy Minister Peter Kapala announced the country’s withdrawal from the 2019 agreement with GE and Power China, citing irregularities in the procurement process.

The southern African region is currently experiencing a severe drought attributed to the El Niño weather pattern, leading to increased food prices and impacting low-income families. Zambia has declared this a national disaster.

ZRA CEO Munyaradzi Munodawafa states that developing water reserve buffers is a priority.

Munodawafa was quoted by Bloomberg as saying: “Additional hydroelectric schemes will facilitate reservoir regulation for power generation and flood management.

“This means generation will be increased at Batoka during the peak season while water will be banked at the Kariba Dam for use during the dry season.”

Despite falling water levels at the Kariba Dam, which is shared by Zambia and Zimbabwe, Munodawafa has dismissed the possibility of decommissioning the facility.

For the remainder of 2024, the ZRA has apportioned eight billion cubic metres of water to Zambian power utility Zesco and Zimbabwe Power. This will enable each to generate 214MW of electricity.

Munodawafa went on: “Batoka will serve as a mitigation measure to some of the hydrological problems at Kariba, while at the same time directly contributing a significant increase to the desperately needed power supply capacity of Zambia and Zimbabwe.”