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Andrew Forrest Has New Plans for Green Megalomania

Andrew Forrest, Australian mining magnate taking his newfound zeal for renewable energy to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The founder and chairman of Fortescue Metals have persuaded President Felix Tshisekedi to let his company lead the development of hydroelectric power stations to generate as much as 40 gigawatts or more than double China’s Three Gorges complex.

It’s part of his fledgling drive to turn fossil-fuel-free hydrogen into a $12 trillion global market by 2050. This African plan borders on green megalomania. The dream of turning the waterway into a huge energy hub, known as Grand Inga, is decades old. Companies including BHP and Spain’s Actividades de Construccion Servicios have had a crack at it before retreating.

According to estimates from several years ago, Political risk is a big factor, and the project could cost $80 billion. The original idea of transporting power via cables to South Africa and elsewhere on the continent is also inefficient. Big dams are generally a fool’s errand, wreaking havoc on wildlife, and water and soil quality, affecting farming.Their reservoirs increase evaporation, too, though the Congolese project would exploit a large vertical drop at the Inga Falls and therefore require less storage. Such projects are also hard to control. On average, costs exceed initial estimates by 96%, according to a 2014 Oxford University study.

Andrew Forrest, also known as Twiggy, can pull off a plan of converting the electricity to hydrogen to be shipped to Europe and elsewhere raises two additional problems. First, taking energy from Africa, which lacks sufficient electricity, reeks of neo-colonialism. Second, it may not stack up financially.The European Union reckons it will have 300 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2050, much of it in the North Sea dedicated to making hydrogen, which can be piped into existing infrastructure. Inga’s gas-processing plants will have to be built from scratch.

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