Tanzania's New Hydropower Plant Sparks Controversy

Tanzania has marked a significant milestone in its energy sector as the first turbine of the Julius Nyerere Hydropower Plant was switched on.

Tanzania has marked a significant milestone in its energy sector as the first turbine of the Julius Nyerere Hydropower Plant, set to double the country’s power generation capacity, was switched on. However, the move has ignited fierce opposition from conservationists due to its location within a U.N.-designated World Heritage Site.

Doto Biteko, Tanzania’s energy minister and deputy prime minister, announced during his visit to the 2,115-megawatt (MW) hydropower plant on Sunday. The newly operational turbine, boasting a capacity of 235 MW, has begun contributing power to the national grid.

Biteko emphasized the turbine’s role in alleviating the prolonged power rationing that has plagued the country, expressing optimism that the issue would further diminish once the second turbine, among the nine planned for the plant, is integrated into the grid next month.

However, the hydropower project has faced staunch opposition from conservationists since its inception in 2019. Critics have raised concerns about the environmental impact of constructing a dam along a major river within the Selous Game Reserve, one of Africa’s largest protected areas.

The Selous Game Reserve, recognized for its rich biodiversity and serving as a habitat for diverse wildlife including elephants, black rhinos, and cheetahs, holds a special status under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Despite these reservations, the Tanzanian government, under the leadership of former President John Magufuli and continued by President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s administration, has remained steadfast in its commitment to the project. It views the hydropower plant as a crucial component of its strategy to enhance electricity supply, particularly in a nation where access to electricity remains limited, with less than half of the population currently connected to the grid.

Biteko assured that the government is dedicated to ensuring that all hydroelectric endeavors prioritize water sustainability, acknowledging the delicate balance between energy needs and environmental preservation.

Prior to the activation of the first turbine at the Julius Nyerere Hydropower Plant, Tanzania boasted an installed generation capacity of 1,900 MW, with natural gas accounting for the majority of the output.

As the country navigates the complexities of balancing its energy demands with environmental conservation, the controversy surrounding the hydropower project underscores the challenges inherent in pursuing ambitious infrastructure developments within ecologically sensitive regions.

The successful operation of the first turbine represents a significant step forward for Tanzania’s energy sector, albeit one accompanied by ongoing scrutiny and debate regarding its long-term consequences on the natural world.