JUBA (Reuters) - South Sudan is aiming to finish two power projects for a combined $350 million by 2015 with foreign backing despite an oil shutdown that has erased almost all of the newly-independent country’s revenues, the electricity minister said.
South Sudan has been facing severe power outages since it seceded from Sudan over a year ago under a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of civil war. Most businesses in South Sudan rely on costly diesel generators to keep the lights on.
Some officials blame a current fuel scarcity on a diesel shortage in Kenya, where South Sudan has been getting much of its fuel since trade with Sudan was largely cut off last year.
Others have linked it to the shutdown of the landlocked country’s oil industry in January in a row with Khartoum over export fees.
South Sudan used to import fuel from refineries in Sudan with local currency for its 15-megawatt generators, but it now needs to use hard currency to import it, Electricity and Dams Minister David Deng Athorbei said.
“We can get fuel for a short time, it may take two to three days, it comes on, and then again there will be no fuel,” he told Reuters in an interview.
He said the immediate power cuts in the capital Juba were connected to the oil shutdown, which erased about 98 percent of state revenues and practically its only source of hard currency.
A lack of spare parts and fuel had forced the country to shut off generators, Athorbei said. “Fuel and spare parts cannot be got easily, and then the loans we actually were expecting are not coming through.”
He said the shutdown disrupted various projects which had been about to secure funding because lenders have declined to advance project funding until crude flows resume.
Delayed projects included a deal to build $300 million worth of power lines over three years to tap into Ethiopia’s national grid, which China had been supposed to fund, Athorbei said.
Athorbei said the country was still going ahead with some projects, like the $100 million Fula Dam in Nimule near the Ugandan border to generate about 40 megawatts.
He said South Sudan would provide about 25 percent of the funds, the Norwegian government would put in 50 percent and the rest would come from the private sector.
Work was expected to start in February 2013 and finish within two years, he said.
South Sudan is also planning to build a crude-consuming 300-megawatt thermal plant in its oil-rich Unity state, which will cost about $250 million and finish by 2015, Athorbei said.
He said South Sudan was requesting the amount as a loan from India and that an Indian company had already expressed interest in the project.
Eventually, the power-starved country hopes to be net exporter of electricity to its neighbours.
One of the most ambitious plans is the construction of a 540-megawatt Bedden dam across the White Nile south of Juba, but the government has not yet provided details of funding for the $1.5 billion, seven-to-eight-year project.
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