The governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe are next year set to kick-start the construction of the huge Batoka Gorge Dam hydropower power project, which has been in the pipeline for over a decade.
The Zimbabwe River Authority, which manages the Kariba Dam and is the custodian of Zambezi waters, said engineering feasibility studies will be complete in July together with the environmental and social impact assessment studies.
“The Legal and Financial Advisory studies will also be complete in the course of this year. This part of the studies will come up with recommendations on various options for financing the project, which is estimated to cost $3.5 billion,” reads part of the ZRA statement.
Batoka is a large gorge carved by the Zambezi River into the strata of basalt rock over hundreds of thousands of years. The huge hydropower dam would be one of Africa’s tallest and would create a large reservoir that would have the capacity to supply 60 percent of the continent’s electricity needs.
ZRA said upon completion, the power station would have the capacity to generate around 2 400 MW of power (1 200 MW for Zambia and (1 200 MW for Zimbabwe). Two power stations are set to be constructed on the northern and southern sides of the dam, just like at Kariba Dam.
Besides its envisaged massive power generation capacity, the project is also expected to create employment opportunities that would benefit the local communities and also from the infrastructure development that includes housing and other social amenities.
ZRA said the hydropower project will have a 181-metre-high dam wall that will hold back 1,680 million cubic metres of water, covering an area of approximately 26 square kilometres. The reservoir will be long and narrow, stretching about a kilometre from the plunge pool of the Victoria Falls. The project is expected to take about 10-13 years to complete.
The project would have limited adverse effects on the environment since it will be confined to a long narrow gorge. The low settlement density in the area will also minimise the number of people needing to be resettled.
Experts say the Batoka project would be the third largest hydropower development on the Zambezi River mainstream, after Kariba and Cabora Bassa in Mozambique. Attempts by environmental activists to dissuade the two governments from undertaking the project on the basis that it would disturb the flora and fauna have been dismissed as non-consequential, especially compared with the massive economic potential the dam will have on both Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The objective of the project is to increase power generation and capacity between Zambia and Zimbabwe, reduce power outages and reliance on coal fired power stations. This will spur additional investment and result in increased industrial development and performance.
Increased power supply will also create opportunities for improved water and sanitation service delivery as most urban wastewater systems are energy dependent. Once completed the Batoka Hydropower Scheme will leave Zambia and Zimbabwe as net exporters of power in the region after meeting local demand.