(Business in Cameroon) - The delivery of the Nachtigal hydroelectric dam, under construction in the Central Region of Cameroon with a planned commercial operation in September 2024, may face delays. The company overseeing the project. Nachtigal Hydro Power Company (NHPC), needs more time to address construction defects identified during a regulatory inspection by the Electricity Regulation Agency (Arsel).
"As part of the regular monitoring of electricity sector investments, an Arsel team visited the construction site of the Nachtigal hydroelectric dam on August 11, 2023, to assess compliance with legal recommendations in the electricity sector after the impoundment carried out on July 18 by the Minister of Water and Energy. Following this visit, Arsel expresses concern about the risks of delays in the work's delivery deadlines due to the following findings: on the labyrinth spillway dam, vertical cracks are visible between the joints of several blocks (...), water infiltrations are observed on these cracks; horizontal cracks are also observed on the body joints of structures," explains Arsel's Director-General, Jean Pascal Nkou, in a report sent to the Minister of Water and Energy, Gaston Eloundou Essomba, on August 29, 2023.
“Regarding the spillway basin of the spillway dam, early and accelerated degradation of the concrete has been observed. At the connection between the feed channel and the water intake: vertical cracks on the wall of the power plant's water intake; water leaks have been observed at the base of the power plant's water intake wall with the filling of the feed channel. In view of this concerning situation, I suggest the following actions: NHPC to submit to the regulator a complete report detailing the nature and depth of the observed anomalies; all relevant solutions for their correction; the schedule for the urgent implementation of repair and reinforcement measures for the structures of the facilities (...); the technical and financial documentation package for the construction work (...), in preparation for the regulatory audit that the regulator will conduct in a timely manner.”
Uncertainties surrounding the upcoming low-water period
In other words, just a month after its impoundment, corresponding to the filling of the dam, cracks and infiltrations have appeared on the dam structures. Therefore, the regulator demands from NHPC, the project company, a schedule for the correction works of these anomalies that could compromise, even before its delivery, the integrity of the largest electric power production infrastructure ever built in Cameroon. These repairs, according to the concerns of Arsel, require additional time for the work, with a more than probable impact on the project's delivery deadline, scheduled for September 2024, according to government forecasts. For now, it is unknown whether the injection of the first 60 megawatts from this power plant into the South Interconnected Network (RIS), which includes six out of the 10 regions in Cameroon, will also be delayed. Such a prospect, as the low-water period approaches, marked by a reduction in water levels in dams would further increase the tensions currently observed in the country's electricity supply. With a total investment of CFA786 billion, the Nachtigal dam will increase electricity production capacity in Cameroon by 30% at once. This energy infrastructure will also boost the contribution of hydroelectric power in the energy mix, resulting in substantial savings on the purchase of fuels for running backup thermal power plants. According to agreements signed between the State of Cameroon and project developers, including Électricité de France (EDF) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the national power utility Eneo, or the Treasury if necessary, must pay NHPC CFA10 billion each month, starting from the commercial operation of the dam, whether or not the energy produced at Nachtigal is consumed.