JUBA, Sudan, Aug 28 (Reuters) - South Sudanese authorities have identified eleven sites in the semi-autonomous region where they plan to build hydroelectric plants to exploit the White Nile and other rivers, a government official said on Saturday.
The oil-producing south will vote in a referendum on secession on Jan. 9 and is widely expected to become an independent nation. Southerners will be building a country from scratch after decades of civil war destroyed what little infrastructure there was in the fertile region.
Isaac Liabwel, a senior official at the ministry of water resources and irrigation, said exploiting the Nile was central to development of the south, which has no electricity grid. Only a few towns have power provided by expensive generators.
"We have located more than 10 potential sites for hydro power, most are along the Nile and its tributaries," Liabwel said. "Developing this power is essential to build up industry ... for irrigation, agriculture."
Liabwel said five sites had been earmarked along the Nile, three others on its tributaries, and three at other water catchment sites in the region. He said they could potentially provide the south with 2,000 megawatt hours of power per day.
The final price tag and timeframe is unknown and costing studies are under way, said Liabwel, who singled out four of the sites along the Nile as the top priority. Each of these lies between the capital, Juba, and the southern border with Uganda.
"These are the main sites. Once they are operational we can link with Uganda and DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and export power to them," he said.
The Blue and White Nile merge in Sudan into a single river that then flows into Egypt.
Southern Sudan Electricity Corporation general manager Ajuoi Chol said the cost for the four priority sites south of Juba would not be less than $1 billion.
Liabwel said the source of funding for the projects and their timeframes were unclear, an issue compounded by the looming referendum because so many question marks remained about the makeup of an independent south's economy.
Under a 2005 peace deal, south Sudan's government gets about half the revenues from oil in the south. With all the oil infrastructure in the north, wealth-sharing would likely continue after secession although the percentages are still being negotiated.
Use of Nile water remains a highly sensitive issue for Egypt, which has reacted angrily to plans by upstream countries to rewrite laws around the division of Nile waters.
Liabwel said Egypt was aware of the south's plans and was supportive of them as the plants would not significantly impair the annual flows.