The 5.2 billion birr Gilgel Gibe II hydroelectric power project 250 km south-west of Addis Ababa is to go into operation shortly.

Sources at the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) say the utility is planning to open the first of four turbines at the 420 MW plant in the first week of September. If all goes to plan the remaining three turbines will be activated one at a time over subsequent weeks.

The project uses water discharged by the existing 184 MW Gilgel Gibe I hydroelectric power station on the Gilgel Gibe river further north. This will be channelled through a 26 km hydraulic tunnel under the Fofa mountain to the Omo-Gibe river valley, where it will harness a 500 m drop to generate electricity.

Construction began in 2004 under the auspices of the civil engineering company Salini Costruttori of Italy. The work was scheduled for completion last year but engineers encountered numerous technical problems which led to delays.

Gilgel Gibe II is one of several hydroelectric power projects that are in the pipeline or nearing completion. These include Tekeze, Beles, Fincha and the controversial 1,800 MW Gilgel Gibe III project, which critics say could have a devasting effect on the environment and human population in the lower Omo river valley.

However the government argues that the projects are needed to mitigate the serious and growing power shortage in Ethiopia and possibly also to allow it to export electricity to other countries.