BHP Billiton Inga 3 is a hydropower plant on the River Congo in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Africa. The plant, to be built by BHP Billiton, is estimated to generate about 2,500MW. It will be constructed on the river near the Inga Falls.

The power produced by Inga 3 will be supplied to BHP’s proposed aluminium smelter.

Construction of the Inga 3 power plant is scheduled to begin in June 2014. Operations at the smelter and the power plant will begin simultaneously.

Inga 3 project history

The plan to utilise the Inga Falls for hydropower generation dates back to July 1999. In 2002, the project was foregrounded by New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). South African power utility Eskom was entrusted the responsibility to investigate the run-of-the-river Inga project, which was estimated to cost about $6bn.

The project was initially planned to be developed by a consortium, Western Power Corridor (Westcor), led by Eskom and Hydro-Quebec. Westcor was formed in February 2003 by the national utility companies Eskom, the DRC’s SNEL, Angola’s Empresa Nacional de Electricidade, Namibia’s NamPower and Botswana Power. The project involved the development of 44,000MW of facilities.

In October 2004, a memorandum of understanding was signed by Westcor for the construction of 3,400MW Inga 3.

“Construction of the Inga 3 power plant is scheduled to begin in June 2014.”

However, the DRC rejected the regional development programme offered by Westcor and planned to develop Inga 3 on its own. The bidding process was opened in June 2009. At this juncture Inga 3 was designed to be a 4,320MW power plant with an estimated cost of $7bn.

BHP Billiton was selected in 2009 to develop the Inga 3 plant with a generating capacity of 2,500MW.

The power project to be carried out by BHP Billiton will substitute Westcor’s previously proposed 5,000MW power project.

BHP Congo project details

BHP intends to develop the power project in collaboration with the DRC, through a public-private partnership. The cost of the entire project is estimated to be $3.5bn.

The proposed Inga 3 project involves construction of a relatively low-impact river-style hydropower station and a dam. The River Congo already has two dams – Inga 1 and Inga 2, with capacities of 351MW and 1,424MW respectively. As of 2010, the two dams are being refurbished.

“BHP’s aluminium smelter will use about 2,000MW of the total power generated by the Inga 3 plant.”

The hydroelectric Inga dams are located in Inga about 225km south-west of Kinshasa, the capital city of the DRC. In addition to BHP Billiton’s Inga 3, another dam, Grand Inga, is proposed to be constructed on the river. The proposed Inga 3 power plant and the aluminium smelter will be situated 150km apart.

The initial concept studies, related to the smelter and the power plant have been completed. BHP plans to carry out the feasibility study of the power plant from mid-2011 to mid-2013. The project will benefit the environment by developing a plant that will generate emission-less power.

Power supply distribution

The aluminium smelter will use about 2,000MW of the total power generated by the Inga 3 plant. The surplus power, after supplying to the aluminium smelter, will be supplied to the southern African power grid to meet the strain on the region’s power supply.

Electric power in Congo

The DRC generates power through petroleum, natural gas, coal and hydro. Congo is rich in hydroelectric sources. These sources, however, are not exploited as the usage of electricity in the region is very less.

This is because most of the country’s population lives in rural areas where their primary source of fuel is wood. Congo plans to construct and develop new generation facilities and expand the existing ones.

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