Congo signs deal for two 100 MW solar plants in copper belt

KINSHASA, June 29 (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo’s state-owned utility company SNEL said on Tuesday it had signed power purchase agreements for the construction of two 100 megawatt (MW) solar power plants in the copper and cobalt-rich south-east for more than $300 million.

SNEL agreed the projects, which are expected to break ground in March 2022 and start operating in early 2023, with developer Financing Access, which is partnered with investment fund Green Power Capital (GPC), the companies said in a joint statement.

A plant in the town of Kolwezi will cost $148 million, while a plant in nearby Likasi will cost $157 million.

Less than 10% of Congo’s roughly 90 million people have reliable access to electricity, and electricity shortages are a major impediment to building processing factories to add value to copper and cobalt exports.

Congo is Africa’s top copper producer and the world’s biggest miner of cobalt, which is used in batteries for electric vehicles and other electronic products.

“With the signing of this agreement, we will contribute to securing the energy supply in the major urban and peri-urban centres,” Jean-Bosco Kayombo Kayan, SNEL’s Director General, said in a statement.

“Similarly, we will be able to ensure the supply of electricity to industrialists in the area, in particular the mining companies which represent the economic lungs of Haut-Katanga and Lualaba (provinces),” he said.

The two plants will provide the Congo’s grid with an average annual production of around 500 gigawatt hours, enough to supply electricity to more than 1.25 million people, SNEL said.

The country has long placed its hopes for energy security in plans to expand the Inga dams along the Congo River, which could eventually become the world’s largest hydroelectric project, but progress has repeatedly stalled over financing issues. (Reporting by Hereward Holland Editing by Aaron Ross and David Evans)