* Congo opens bidding for 4,320 MW Inga 3 dam investors
* BHP-Billiton expressed interest
* Inga dams could provide region with power
By Joe Bavier
KINSHASA, June 19 Democratic Republic of Congo
has opened bidding for partners ready to help finance the
long-delayed $7 billion Inga 3 hydroelectric plant, its energy
minister said on Friday.
The government has created a new company to manage the
project's construction, which is expected to last eight years
and has attracted interest from mining giant BHP-Billiton
The combined potential of Congo's Inga dams, in the
relatively peaceful west of the country, has been estimated as
high as 100,000 megawatts. But current output is around 700 MW
and projects to revamp the dams have failed to find investment.
Congo opened the bidding process for companies interested in
investing in the 4,320 MW Inga 3 plant after hosting talks on
the project in Kinshasa this week, United Nations-backed Radio
Okapi reported on Friday.
"Today, BHP-Billiton is interested in this production,
because it wants to build an aluminium smelter in Bas-Congo
(province). This is the first client we have," Energy Minister
Laurent Muzangisa Mutalamu told the radio.
BHP-Billiton, the world's largest diversified miner, could
contribute up to $35 million in financing, Radio Okapi reported.
Inga 3 is expected to link up with the southern African
power grid to help address growing strains on the region's power
supply as well as provide electricity to Congo's mining
heartland in the country's southeast.
Congo's government is currently focusing on repairs and
upgrades for the faltering Inga 1 and 2 hydro projects. It hopes
to increase their capacity to 1,700 MW by 2012.
Congo plans one day to bring on line the 40,000 MW Grand
Inga project. However, investors have so far been wary of the
risk involved and have baulked at its $80 billion price tag.
(Editing by David Lewis)