The Akosombo Dam
The Akosombo Hydroelectric Project (Akosombo HEP), usually referred to as the Akosombo Dam, lies in the southeastern part of Ghana. It is located at the Akosombo gorge, on the Volta River. The construction of the dam resulted in the flooding of the Volta River Basin, and the subsequent creation of Lake Volta; the world’s largest man-made lake, which covers about 3.6% of Ghana’s total land area. Lake Volta was formed between 1962 and 1966, and necessitated the relocation of 80,000 people into 52 resettlement villages two years prior to the lake’s completion. This number represented 1% of the population at the time and made up 700 villages prior to resettlement. 2% of the resettlement population was riparian fishers and most were subsistence farmers. The resettlement program was under the direction of the VRA. The Eastern Region of Ghana and the populations incorporated within its districts, were most affected by the project. At least two districts within the Eastern Region represent indigenous ethnic groups. The dam is currently the largest single investment in the economic development plans of Ghana.
The idea for the dam originated in 1915 with the Geologist Albert Ernest Kitson.
However, it was not until 1949, under the British Colonial Administration, that plans for the dam began to be drawn up. These plans were finally executed in 1961 by the elected Prime Minister of independent Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, who adopted the Volta River hydropower project to grandly represent the beginning of a new and growing economy. As a newly independent country, Ghana became motivated to expand the economy by way of industrial development. 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 having to import the bauxite employed in smelting. Development of the aluminum industry within Ghana was dependent upon the proposed hydropower. The Akosombo Dam was, therefore, built to produce hydropower support for the Aluminum Industry.
To date, the aluminum smelter is overseen by the American company, Kaiser Aluminum, and operated by the Volta Aluminum Company (VALCO). The smelter received its financial investment from shareholders of VALCO, 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. 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 (especially from Jamaica) to keep the industry running. The Volta Aluminium Company (VALCO) is the major consumer of the dam’s product – the dam directly provides Ghana with only 20% of its energy capacity, with the rest of the 80% being consumed by VALCO.
The Akosombo dam was built between 1961 and 1965 at an estimated total cost of $258 million (0313.7 million). It was funded through loans provided by the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development of the World Bank, as well as, support from both the U.S. and the U.K. These loans came to a total of about $40 million (048 million), while the government of Ghana pumped $69 million (084 million). Its original power capacity was 912 MWe, which was later upgraded to 1020 MWe in a refit completed in 2006. The Aksosombo dam, which has six turbines, has a water holding capacity of 148 x 1012 litres and the catchment area is 8502 sq.km. The dimensions of the dam are as follows; 660 metres (2,165.33 ft) long, 114 metres (374 ft) high and 366 meters (1,200.77ft) wide at base.