BHP withdrawal possible setback for Congo's Inga 3 hydro project

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo 2/17/12 (PennWell) -- BHP Billiton has abandoned its plan to construct an aluminum smelter in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the country's energy minister says, potentially causing problems for the Inga 3 hydroelectric project.

BHP, the world's largest mining company, was expected to be a major beneficiary of the planned 4,300-MW Inga 3 project.

"The problem is real but there are alternative solutions," energy minster Gilbert Tshiongo said. "There is the domestic demand, there is demand also from the exterior. Inga was not mainly for the exterior but for interior consumption."

Currently, only about 9% of Congo's 70 million inhabitants have access to electricity.

A mining boom in the country's southern provinces have strained the available supply, however, prompting the government to rectify the energy deficit by 2020.

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