The commissioning of the dam's second turbine has taken place despite disagreements with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan over the operation and filling of the reservoir

Ethiopia begins new phase of the Grand Renaissance Dam

photo_camera PHOTO/AFP/AMANUEL SILESHI - Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), one of the most expensive initiatives in recent history across the African continent, has been inaugurated the second functional turbine at its facility on Thursday. "We are proud to be able to make the history that was said to be impossible," said Abiy Ahmed, the country's prime minister, during a ceremony that was also attended by the president of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Sahle-Work Zewde, as well as several other senior officials. 

Now with two turbines in operation - out of a total of 13 - the dam has become the second largest power plant in the country, according to the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC), although information about its production capacity is still contradictory at the moment. While EBC claims that the commissioning of this second turbine, called Unit 9, will double the electricity production from the 375 megawatts (MW) generated so far by Unit 10 to 750 MW, the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) claims that Unit 9 will only increase production by 270 MW. To 540 MW. 


In total, the dam's total power capacity is estimated to be around 5,000-6,000 MW once the works - currently at 84% completion for water transmission facilities, 95% for civil facilities, and 61% for electromechanical development - are completed, and all 13 turbines are operational. 

During his inauguration speech, Abiy Ahmed also addressed the downstream countries of Egypt and Sudan. Also crossed by the Nile, and with whom negotiations on the management of the Grand Renaissance Dam have been frozen for more than a year now. "Our goal is to produce energy for development, but without harming the downstream countries," said the prime minister. 

Opposition from Egypt and Sudan 

Since the multi-billion dollar project began construction in 2010, the High Dam has become the epicentre of diplomatic tensions between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. Especially in recent years. This is why the prime minister of Addis Ababa has addressed part of his words to his northern neighbours. "Although the third filling process [of the reservoir] has confirmed the impoundment of about 22 billion cubic metres of water, and has made it possible to generate power for the second time, the process has been carried out without causing any harm to the downstream countries, as the process of releasing water comes naturally from the course of the river. 

The filling Ahmed refers to would be the third filling of the dam (which has a total capacity of about 74 billion cubic metres) since the summer of 2020, which, according to the Ethiopian authorities, will take place during the current rainy season, between the months of August and September. Egypt and Sudan denounce that this is being done "unilaterally", outside of three-way negotiations to establish the rules for the operation and filling of the Renaissance Dam. Thus violating the declaration of principles signed in 2015 by the three countries, which established the determination of a framework for water use, operation and formulas for conserving the allocated water quotas.


Thus, while Ethiopia maintains that "by generating energy we are developing our economy" and that of its neighbours, Cairo claims that these fills will ultimately reduce the flow of the Nile downstream. At the same time, Khartoum's foreign ministry says it "follows with concern the statements of the director of the Renaissance Dam, ignoring Sudan's position" on the reservoir that straddles the Nile in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, near the border with Sudan and the Al-Fashaga territories disputed by Khartoum and Addis Ababa. 


Indeed, Egypt recently warned about cracks in the concrete façade of a sub-dam, linked to the Grand Renaissance Dam, in a letter to the UN Security Council. The letter also included statements by the Egyptian Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, Mohamed Abdel-Aty, who stressed that Cairo will hold Ethiopia fully responsible for any significant damage in Egypt, and will take the necessary measures to ensure and protect its national security. 

Addis Ababa, for its part, confirmed in early June its intention to resume negotiations with Khatoum and Cairo under the auspices of the African Union (AU).