Congo tells consortia to form joint bid for Inga 3 hydro project

KINSHASA, June 13 (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday asked Chinese and Spanish consortia vying to develop a long-delayed $14 billion hydroelectric project to join together and submit a single bid.

The statement represents a new delay for the Inga 3 project, which has struggled to attract financing. Last May, the government announced plans to select a developer by October 2016 and begin construction this month.

The World Bank announced it had suspended funding for Inga 3 last July after the presidency took control of the project from the prime minister’s office, raising concerns about transparency .

A brief statement from the presidency gave no reason for the latest decision, which affects the China Three Gorges Corporation and a consortium that includes engineering giant Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA .

The project along the Congo River will expand on two existing Inga hydroelectric dams and is part of an eight-stage Grand Inga project that would produce a record 44,000 MW at an estimated cost of $50 billion to $80 billion.

Proponents say it could one day power half of Africa. Critics say the money would be better spent supporting smaller local plants.

“The two consortiums have been invited ... to do everything possible to form a single group before submitting an optimized bid,” said a statement from the presidency.

Of Inga 3’s 4,800 MW, 2,500 will be sold to South Africa and 1,300 is earmarked for Congo’s mining sector. The remaining 1,000 will go toward meeting domestic demand in a country where less than 15 percent of the population has electricity. (Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Larry King)