The primary purpose of the Akosombo HEP was to provide electricity for the Aluminum Industry . The Akosombo HEP was called "the largest single investment in the economic development plans of Ghana" . Its original electrical output was 912 MWe, which was upgraded to 1020 MWe in a retrofit project that was completed in 2006.
The flooding of land to create the Lake Volta reservoir, displaced many people and had a significant impact on the environment .
In the beginning of 2007, there were concerns over the electricity supply from the dam due to lower water levels in the Lake Volta reservoir. Some sources say these are due to problems with drought that are a consequence of global warming. During Q3-Q4 of 2007, much of this concern was abated when heavy rain fell in the catchment area of Volta River.
The idea for the dam originated in 1915 with the Geologist Albert Ernest Kitson but it was not until the 1940s that plans for the dam began to be drawn. The dam provides electricity to Ghana and its neighboring West African countries, including Togo and Benin. The dam is 660 Metres wide and 114 Metres high. It cost £130 million to build. It was built between 1961 and 1965. Its development was undertaken by the Ghanaian government and funded in part by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development of the World Bank, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
In periods of drought, the water in Lake Volta is rationed and less electricity is generated. During these times, cities in Ghana are subjected to rolling blackouts to lessen their consumption of electricity. Ghana's Volta River Authority has contracts with neighbouring countries for electricity. These contracts are given higher priority than the customers in Ghana's own cities. Though Kaiser Aluminum is a major user, and the dam was constructed in part for the smelting of local bauxite, the economics have turned out such that raw materials have to be imported to keep the industry running. The Volta Aluminum Company (VALCO) is another major user. Valco had said previously that they would use the local bauxite. When the dam was built, they instead imported the necessary material (alumina, what bauxite is made into) from Jamaica.
It is interesting to note though that, the Akosombo Dam directly provides Ghana with only 20% of its energy capacity, with the rest of the 80% being generated for the benefit of the American-owned Volta Aluminium Company . Furthermore, the Ghana Government was compelled, by contract, to pay for over 50% of the cost of Akosombo’s construction. However, the country was allowed to benefit from just 20% of the power generated. Some commentators are concerned that this is an example of neo-colonialism.
The final proposal outlined the building of an aluminum smelter at Tema, a dam constructed at Akosombo to power the smelter, and a network of power lines installed through southern Ghana. The aluminum smelter was expected to eventually provide the revenue necessary for establishing local bauxite mining and refining, which would allow for aluminum production without foreign importing of the bauxite employed in burning. Development of the aluminum industry within Ghana was dependent upon the proposed hydropower.
The proposed project’s aluminum smelter was overseen by the American company, Kaiser Aluminum, and is operated by the Volta Aluminum Company (Valco). The smelter received its financial investment from Valco shareholders, with the support of the Export-Import Bank of Washington. However, Valco did not invest without first requiring insurances from Ghana’s government, such as company exemptions from taxes on trade and discounted purchases of electricity. The dam, on the other hand, received its funding through loans provided by the World Bank, and support from both the U.S. and the U.K. These loans came to a total of about $40 million (48 million cedis), while the government of Ghana supplied the other $69 million (84 million cedis) necessary for constructing the hydropower plant at Akosombo. The estimated total cost of the project, in its entirety, was estimated at $258 million (313.7 million cedis).
In 1961, the Volta River Authority (VRA) was established by Ghana’s Parliament through the passage of the Volta River Development Act. The VRA’s fundamental operations were structured by six Board members and Dr. Nkrumah as Chairman. The VRA’s primary task is to manage the development of the Volta River Basin, which included the construction and supervision of the dam, the power station and the power transmission network. The VRA is responsible for the lake reservoir behind the dam, the fishing available within the lake, lake transportation and communication, and the welfare of those approximate to the lake.
The construction of the Akosombo dam required the flooding of the Volta River Basin and its upstream fields, resulting in the creation of Lake Volta which covers 3.6% of Ghana’s total land area . Lake Volta was formed between the years of 1962 and 1966, and necessitated the relocation of 80,000 people into 52 resettlement villages two years prior to the lake’s completion; the resettlement program was under the direction of the VRA . The 80,000 people, that represented 1% of the population, made up 700 villages prior to resettlement . Two percent of the resettlement population were riparian fishers and most were subsistence farmers . The Eastern Region of Ghana and the populations incorporated within its districts, was most subject to the project’s effects. At least two districts within the Eastern Region represent indigenous ethnic groups .
In the time following the construction of the dam at Akosombo, there has been a steady decline in agricultural productivity along the lake and the associated tributaries . The land surrounding Lake Volta is not nearly as fertile as the formerly cultivated land residing underneath the lake, and heavy agricultural activity has since exhausted the already inadequate soils. Upstream agricultural systems are losing soil fertility without the periodic floodings that brought nutrients to the soil before the natural river flow was halted by the dam . The growth of commercially intensive agriculture has produced a rise in fertilizer run-off into the river. This, along with run-off from nearby cattle stocks and sewage pollution, has caused eutrophication of the river waters . The nutrient enrichment, in combination with the low water movement, has allowed for the invasion of aquatic weeds (Cerratophyllum). These weeds have become a formidable challenge to water navigation and transportation .
An Ethnoarchaeological Analysis of Human Functional Dynamics in the Volta Basin of Ghana: Before and after the Akosombo Dam
Jan 01, 2005; An Ethnoarchaeological Analysis of Human Functional Dynamics in the Volta Basin of Ghana: Before and After the Akosombo Dam. By...
Accra Seeks Power Supply Solutions: Ghana's Chronic Shortage of Power Will Adversely Affect Its Growth Targets This Year and for the near Future. However, a Spate of New Undertakings, Some with Chinese Assistance, Should Ease the Situation over the Next Three to Four Years. Neil Ford Reports
Nov 01, 2007; Ghana has enjoyed a variable reputation as an electricity producer over the past 20 years. The development of the Akosombo Dam...