By Barry Malone
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian factory owners say they have been told to halve the amount of power they normally use after a tunnel collapse stopped energy production at the country’s biggest hydropower dam.
Ethiopia opened the dam last month and said it would produce 420 megawatts (MW) of power as part of an effort to beat chronic energy shortages in the country and become one of Africa’s only power exporters.
But part of a dam tunnel collapsed 10 days after its inauguration, utility Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) said.
Blackouts started in Addis Ababa days after the tunnel collapse and engineers said the tunnel could take two months to repair.
Factory owners in Addis Ababa, who declined to be named, told Reuters that major factory owners inside and outside the capital — including exporters — have been asked by the utility to halve their power consumption until the problem was fixed.
“We cut down power use and we cut down productivity,” one owner told Reuters. “It is a very bad thing for my work and it is very bad for our exports.”
EEPCo was not immediately available to comment.
Outages have been common in Ethiopia for five years. The utility says economic growth has caused a surge in demand for power and it is working to catch up.
Ethiopia rationed power for five months in 2009 with outages every second day, which closed factories, hampered exports and fuelled a currency shortage.
The new dam took five years to complete and cost about 370 million euros, EEPCo said.
The Italian government covered 220 million euros of the cost and the Ethiopian government paid the rest.
Italy’s Salini Costruttori led its construction.
The new dam had brought power-generating capacity in Africa’s second most populous country to almost 2,000 MW.
Energy Minister Alemayehu Tegenu told Reuters in November that Ethiopia would produce 15,000 MW of power within 10 years.
The country is building five more hydropower dams, some funded by the World Bank. Hydropower fuels about 90 percent of its energy, EEPCo says.