Name: Initially dubbed “Project X,” on the 2010/11 annual plan document of the state-owned EEPCO(Ethiopia Electric and Power Corporation). It was officiated as the “Grand EthiopianGrand Ethiopian Renaissance dam (Millennium dam) reservoir Millennium Dam” on April 2, the project’s inauguration ceremony.

Later renamed – Grand Ethiopian Hidase dam or Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam, by the Council of Ministers on April 20. (Read here) [Hidase is a Geez word for Renaissance. And, there is a debate on the appropriateness of translating a name.]

During the inauguration, the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi explained that it was named ‘Millennium’ because, according to the PM, ‘it is the largest dam we could build at any point along the Nile, or indeed any other river. More importantly the project takes the pride of place, representing an incomparable addition to our national plan for expanding power production.’ [Read the speech here]

The new name Hidase (Renaissance) was coined four years ago to convey Ethiopia’s aspiration to reclaim its ancient glory and global status. The Prime Minister declared the current period as a time of Ethiopian Hidase (Renaisance) in his speech at the turn of the Ethiopian 3rd Millennium, i.e., that is, Sept. 10/2007 midnight. Thus, it was reasoned, the dam should be called Hidase (Renaissance) as it is an important component of it.

Location: The dam is being built on the Blue Nile River in North western Ethiopia, a few Kilometers from the Ethio– Sudan common border, in Benshangul/Gumuz National Regional State, Metekel zone, Buamza Kebele, between Lebeyate and Negro mountains.

Structure of the Dam: The dam is to be 145 meters (476 ft) high and 1780 meters (5,906 ft) long. The reservoir will have the capacity to hold up to 66 billion cubic meters of water, which occupies 1,680 Km2 (648.5Mile2). A saddle dam, supporting the dam and reservoir, will be a 5 km (3 mile) long and 50 m (164 ft) tall.

The size of the reservoir is about twice the size of Ethiopia’s largest natural lake, Lake Tana, which holds 32 billion cubic meters at its peak, and will be among the largest in Africa.

Configuration: It is a gravity type dam of a roller compacted concrete (RCC) Main Dam, with two Powerhouses installed at its toes.

The the powerhouses are to be located one on the Right bank and one on the Left bank of the river and will accommodate ten and five Francis Turbine Units respectively, each with an installed generating capacity of 350 MW. That is: 15x350MW=5250MW total installed capacity.

A concrete lined Gated Spillway and a 5 km long, 50 m high Saddle Dam, both located on the Left Bank. [See the picture on the right]

Upgrade: On March 27, 2012, the government announced a revision of the design. Thus, the total installed capacity of the dam will accommodate 16 turbines 375 MW installed capacity. Ten turbines will be on the left bank, while another six turbines on the right bank.

Thus, 16 turbines X 375 MW=6000 MW will be the total installed capacity of the dam as per the revised plan.

Power generating capacity:Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam reservoir (Millennium dam)

* Designed to have an installed capacity of 5250 MW, which is threefold of the 1885.8 MW installed capacity of the 12 currently operational Hydro-power plants of the nation.

* Planned to a generation capacity of 15,100 Giga WH per year( or 15.1 billion-kilowatt energy per year). This equivalent to giving 8 hours of per capita light to 86 million Ethiopians.

* It is said to be the largest Hydro-power dam in Africa, the 10th in the world.

* The plant will have a generating capacity equal to six middle size nuclear reactors.

Contractor: The project was awarded to Salini Costruttori SPA either by restricted tendering procedures or direct procurement procedures, the two other methods of public procurement procedures, save open tendering.

Salini signed the contract on Nov. 2010 for ‘the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC)’ components of the project. It has began deploying heavy construction machinery to the site months before the official launch of the dam. It had, by then, already constructed a rock crushing plant along with a small air strip for fast transportation.

Salini is an Italian company which previously built Gilgel Gibe II and Tana Beles dams and in charge of the on-going Gilgel Gibe III dam construction in Ethiopia. It has built about 20 dams in Europe Asia and Africa.

The project’s electromechanical components is subcontracted for a local company, Metal Engineering Co.

Project life span: The dam is scheduled to start delivering electricity in September 2014, when 2 turbine units (thus, 700 MW) become operational. The project completion is scheduled for September 2017 and includes erecting a 500 kilo-volt Transmission lines.

Salini stated that: the project will be carried out according to the “Fast Track Implementation” method, developed by Salini for the building of large hydroelectric plants, ready for immediate use. The method is based on the concurrent development of all relevant working phases, and allows a radical lowering – at least 50 % – of construction time. The hydroelectric plant will produce benefits and profits much sooner than traditional construction methods, along with a faster investment return.

Cost estimate and financing: The Project is owned by the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation(EEPCO). The total cost is estimated at 78 billion birr (3.350 Bln Euros or 4.8 Bln USD) and is to be covered by government budget.Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam (Millennium dam) top view

The government plans to raise funds through the sell of treasury bonds, to be purchased by domestic banks and individuals, and public gifts. As of September 11, 2011, about 10% of the total cost has been raised from salaried employees and the business community.

Donations of a month’s salary by Civil Servants have been converted into bonds, as per the decision of the Grand Renaissance Dam Public mobilization Council last July.

The National Bank of Ethiopia issued a directive last April which compels public and private banks to buy government bonds equivalent to 27 percent of their loans each month.
This is projected to raise about 11 billion birr in its first year. That amount is likely to increase in subsequent years, according to
Bloomberg’s William Davidson, citing a research note by Access Capital, the Addis Ababa- based research group.

The Economist claimed China pledged a 1.8 Bln USD loan. But the Ethiopian government says it has no plan to seek foreign finance so far.

Purpose/Use: The dam will ‘mostly’ be used for generating hydroelectric power, the Minister of Water Resources said days before the inauguration of the project. It will also provide ‘extensive opportunities for fisheries and cultivation’, according to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s speech on the inauguration ceremony.Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam (Millennium dam)

Hailemariam Desalegn, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs said later on April that the country will export power to seven neighboring countries, namely Egypt, Djibouti, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and South Sudan after the completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, while Somaliland, Tanzania and South Africa were also added to the list of names that would benefit from the dam in the future.

Salini claimed, indicating financial feasibility, that ‘the dam’s annual production, at the rate of 5 euro/cents per KWh (according to the African value), will be around 770 millions Euros per year. If this amount of energy would have been marketed in Europe the costs of the plant would be written-off in about one year. That is almost 2/3 of the money Ethiopia get from last year export.’

Environmental Impact: Director of Ethiopian Environmental Authority Tewoldeberhane Gebreegeziabhere (PhD), said three months ago the environmental impacts of the dam are minimal and taken into consideration. Walta Information Center‘s report of the interview reads:

He [Tewoldeberhane] said any human activity has an impact on the environment but the question is how series is the impact and can the impact be mitigated.
‘On all the two accounts and evaluation of the initial project document, the project is appropriate and it would bring massive benefits to residents of the region including those countries downstream,’
He indicated that some local people will be displaced but the project envisages that it has set aside a budget line for resettling them in other areas.
‘The generation of power does not use up water. It only uses energy that was contained in the flowing water……Flooding that takes place during rainy season in those countries downstream will no longer be the case’.

Dr. Tewoldeberhane’s statement indicates at least a preliminary Social and Environmental Impact study is conducted. And, the result had shown the negative impacts are minimal and mitigating measures are in place, as required by the Authority’s manual.Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam (Millennium dam) design (1)

PM Meles Zenawi suggested, on his speech on the inauguration ceremony, that:

The Dam will greatly reduce the problems of silt and sediment that consistently affect dams in Egypt and Sudan. This has been a particularly acute problem at Sudan’s Fosseiries dam which has been experienced reduction in output. When the Millennium Dam becomes operational, communities all along the riverbanks and surrounding areas, particularly in Sudan, will be permanently relieved from centuries of flooding. These countries will have the opportunity to obtain increased power supplies at competitive prices. The Millennium Dam will increase the amount of water resources available, reducing the wastage from evaporation which has been a serious problem in these countries. It will in fact ensure a steady year-round flow of the Nile. ….On this calculation, Sudan might offer to cover 30 per cent and Egypt 20 per cent of the costs of the entire project’.

Salini claimed that: A great achievement obtained through clean technology, without major environmental impacts, because the area is scarcely populated, therefore no major resettlement is necessary, and with positive effects on the downstream agricultural land.

Ethiopia’s Minister of Water noted: ‘The water will be stored in narrow gorges, which would prevent evaporation and retain 7.5 billion cubic meter’.

However, an organization named, International Rivers recently said, the dam ‘will flood 1,680 square kilometers of forest in northwest Ethiopia.’ It noted further that ‘filling [the dam’s] huge reservoir will certainly impact Egypt, which relies almost totally on the Nile for its water supply. Many fear the project could set off a water war in the region.’ The organization, alongside with other groups, is known for its unrelenting campaign against Ethiopia’s other dam Gibe III, which is to be completed by 2013. Yet, a foreign journalist confirmed to this blog the presence of a large forestry in the immediate vicinity of the the dam project.

Planning and publicity: Studies in the Blue Nile area date as far back as 1935 and include companies from USA, Sweden and others.Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam (Millennium dam) design (2)

A US and Ethiopian joint project, titled: USA-Ethiopia Cooperative Program for the Study of the [Blue Nile] Basin, (1959 – 1964), produced a comprehensive report on the hydrology, water quality, hypsography, geology, sedimentation, mineral resources, land resources, ground water and the local socio-economic situation. The study proposed four dams downstream with a total holding capacity of 51 bcm as the annual rate, according to the book ‘Ethiopia and the Nile Dilemmas of National and Regional Hydro-politics’, by Yacob Arsano, published in 2007 (page 153-4).

The master plans for the Blue Nile[Abbay], Tekeze[Atbara] and Baro-Akobo basins were completed in the 1990s, according page 166 of the same book.

Recent planning activities include, according to Renaissance dam project Civil works manager Semegnew Bekele:

  • October 2008 – ‘extensive surveying’ conducted
  • September 2010 – studies for a Hydroelectricity plant completed
  • Nov. 2010 – Final study submitted to government
  • Several reviews had been conducted on the study and ascertained the project is financially feasible and less costly compared to international Hydroelectricity project costs.

EEPCO’s Corporate plan of 2010/11 (2003 Eth Calendar), written in Amharic, and uploaded on its website sometime before Dec. 16/2010, stated the following with no direct reference to the Blue Nile river:Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam (Millennium dam) design (3)

Goal: Preparation works for project X, which is of more than 5000 MW power generation capacity

Tasks: set up project office; carry out works leading to the signing a contract ; carry out monitoring to ensure performance is in line with the timetable and specifications and provide inputs for Monitoring and Supervision officers; conduct payments, as per the time frame in the contract, for works conducted; prepare letters of support and cooperation, and deliver to the concerned bodies, as per the timetable, and follow-up the implementation; to address issues that arise in relation to the contract within the specified timeframe; submit reports on time so as to expedite monitoring ; and acquire the man power and resources necessary for the project.

The project became public when it was leaked to the English weekly Addis fortune, on February 6. It was on late March that government officials confirmed the news, which culminated with the  the Minister of Water and Energy, Alemayehu Tegenu, revealing the details of the project in a press conference at the Sheraton Addis on March 30. Later that week, the project was officially launched in a televised ceremony attended by the Premier on April 2, 2011.

Is it Ethiopia’s first dam on Nile? Yes and No.

Ethiopia has already built two dams, Tekeze and Tana Beles dams, on the the tributaries of the Nile, both mainly for Hydro-power generation. Egypt didn’t officially oppose the Tekeze dam, though Ethiopia had to fully finance the project cost. But with the launching of Tana Beles, Egyptian went as far as officially pleading the Italian government, as Salini took part in the project. Yet, Ethiopia was able to complete the project with domestic finance.

However, unlike the two, the new dam is to be erected on the Blue Nile waters – after it has left Lake Tana and on its way to Sudan.

Reaction from Egypt:

See the Nile Archive of this blog for posts concerning Egypt media and officials.

Background: (from various sources)

Name: The Nile gets its name from the Greek word “Nelios”, meaning River Valley.

Sources: The Blue Nile (aka, Abay) rises in Ethiopia and provides 85 percent of the overall flow of the Nile river.
The White Nile flows from Lake Victoria. Zaire, Kenya, Tanzanian, Rwanda, and Burundi all have tributaries, which flow into the White Nile or into Lake Victoria.
The White Nile runs through Uganda and into Sudan, where it meets with the Blue Nile at the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
The Nile flow north toward Egypt.

Length: The Nile stretches some 6,695 km (4,184 miles) from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean, and covers an area of at least 3,349,000 square kilometers.

Countries: The Nile and its tributaries flow through ten countries. The 10 Nile Basin countries are Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. South Sudan became the 11th riparian state on July 2011.

Flow Rate: The Nile River’s average discharge is about 300 million cubic metres per day.

Significance for Ethiopia: 32.5% of the country’s surface and 66.1% of the total water run-off is in the Nile basin. Moreover, 58% of Ethiopia’s irrigable land is located in the Nile basin, so does about 70% of Hydro-power potential. [See: Ethiopia can’t do without Nile | Here is why).

Egypt’s claim: Egypt claims a legal right on the Nile waters based on the 1929 and 1955 agreements.

* The 1929 agreement, which is of uncertain legal status, was made in the form of Exchange of Notes between the UK ambassador in Cairo and Egypt’s Prime Minister from 1925-1929. It is referred to as ‘Exchange of Notes Regarding the Use of Waters of the Nile for Irrigation Purposes, May 7, 1929, Egypt-Uk’, and it gives almost exclusive rights to Egypt.

* Sudan contested the 1929 agreement when it attained its independence from UK, but later, in the 1955, signed an accord with Egypt that allocates 55.5 billion cubic meters of the Nile to Egypt and 18.5 billion to Sudan. Notice that the average annual discharge of the Nile river, measured at Aswan dam, Cairo, is 84 billion cubic meter.

* The other former colonies colonies of U.K. – Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda declared the 1929 Nile Agreement non-binding following their independence from UK.

* The rest upstream countries can not be linked to the 1929 agreement, as they were not part of British colony at the time of the agreement. Burundi, Rwanda and Congo were under Belgium mandate, while Ethiopia has never been colonized.

Egypt also raises the 1902 Treaty between Ethiopia and UK, on behalf of Sudan, signed by UK’s envoy, John Harrington, and Emperor Menelik in Addis Ababa on May 15/1902. Though the Treaty was on Ethio-Sudan border, its mentions the use of Nile River. Article III of the Treaty appears to preclude any use of the river in its english version, while the corresponding phrase in the Amharic language version refers to works that halt the flow of the water. The validity of the Treaty is also uder question since the Treaty has never been ratified by the British parliament and the Ethiopian Royal Court. Moreover, Emperor Haileselasie repudiated the Treaty altogether in 1942 on account of British recognition of Fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia.

The Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement(CFA)

The Nile basin courtiers, except Eritrea and South Sudan, founded the Nile Basin Commission, later Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), in 1999, with funds form World Bank, aiming ‘to establish a diplomatic protocol for evaluating the fair use of the river for agricultural and energy projects’.

The Commission paved the way for the drafting the ‘Nile Basin Cooperative Framework Agreement(CFA)’ for the equitable sharing of the Nile waters.

It was signed by  was signed by Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania on May 14, 2010, and later by Kenya and Burundi.

With the signing of Burundi, last February, the treaty is deemed binding, since 6 of the 9 countries are on board. Yet, Egypt argues it doesn’t replace the 1929 agreement, bereft of her signature. Sudan, apparently, follows Egypt’s lead.

Eritrea’s contribution to the Nile river’s runoff is very small and it was the only country not to take part in the Nile Basin Initiative, nor is she involved with the new Agreement. South Sudan attained independence few months ago and is expected to join the Nile Basin Commission and sign the new Agreement.

[See the Nile Archive of this blog for more]


[Notice that: I had posted some sections of this post on the previous post titled ‘Quick facts: on the Grand Millennium dam’ in this blog]

Do you see a relevant information missing here? Write it below or e-mail it to [email protected] and will be included in the post.











Daniel Berhane

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