No Light to Zesa’s Tunnel of Power Woes

MOST households and industries in Zimbabwe are currently limited to less than 10 hours of electricity supply daily because of power cuts which are a result of lack of investment in power generation since Independence.

The hardest hit areas are limited to about five hours of electricity daily.
Only about 30% of the country has access to grid electricity.
What is more worrying is that despite not having electricity during the greater part of the day, households are receiving electricity bills as high as US$1 600.
No new power generation stations have been built in the country since Kariba Hydro in the early 1960s and Hwange Thermal which was completed in 1986.
Despite advances in technology, power experts say a lead time of up to five years is needed to build a power station.
The current power shortage stems from a failure by government to implement numerous power generation projects.
More recently the annual maintenance at Kariba and depressed generation at Hwange have increased power rationing.
The old thermal power stations built in the late 1940s at Harare, Bulawayo and Munyati are too expensive to run and are almost obsolete, despite their refurbishment in the mid-1990s.
Power utility Zesa Holdings does not have the funds to buy the coal and bring it all the way from Hwange to the small thermal power stations. The Hwange Colliery Company has failed to provide Zimbabwe Electricity Distribution Company, a subsidiary of Zeas Holdings, with adequate supplies of coal. Hwange is also being accused of not treating its business partners in a professional and progressive manner; a situation analysts said did not attract foreign and local investors.
To add to their woes, the railway line linking the power stations and the colliery is in a state of serious disrepair.
This is a major drawback to efforts to increase capacity utilisation to 60%, according to the Short Term Emergency Recovery Programme (Sterp). The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries says industry is currently operating at about 33,2% which is still far off the mark.
Questions have been asked about how government will be able to increase power generation to meet increased demand by industry, when the power utility is failing to meet demand at a time when industry is operating at below 40%. Questions have also been asked why Hwange Colliery Company Ltd was chasing away investors when they are said to be failing to operate viably.
There are fears of a major coal shortage after Hwange briefly suspended operations at one of its mines that was flooded with water.
HCCL’s output has already suffered after its dragline was taken off line for a month as it underwent major repairs. The flooding of the underground mine, which happened after miners tried to dig deeper in search of “good coal”, worsened the situation, sources said.
The country’s sole producer of coal has already recorded a decline in coal sales to 401 114 tonnes during the first half of the year  to 862 392 tonnes during the same period last year.
Zesa has been badly affected by the coal shortages.
Zesa chief executive Ben Rafemoyo said increased load shedding was a result “of annual maintenance at Kariba and reduced generation in the country”.
He said Sterp adopted by government was a plan which would increase demand for electricity and that the nation should brace for increased load shedding for the next few years.
Rafemoyo said depending on the site, type of generation station and amount of work, a power station takes between four to seven years to construct. This suggests that apart from stopgap measures the country will have increased load shedding for a minimum five years.
Zesa has been forced to enter into skewed deals with foreign companies to assist in the construction and refurbishment of power stations as was the case with NamPower of Namibia.
“With regards to the NamPower deal, people should look at the basis of the transaction. We (Zimbabwe) did not have foreign currency and they (Nambia) did. The refurbishment needed to be done,” said Rafemoyo.
Zimbabwe imports power from Mozambique, Zambia and Snel from Democratic Republic of Congo.
Rafemoyo said in the event of increased capacity utilisation by industry “it was mostly likely that households would not have electricity during the day to ensure industry operates, but the opposite would occur during the evening”.
In an interview with Movement for Democratic Change newsletter The Changing Times this week Minister of Energy and Power Development, Elias Mudzuri said his ministry had embarked on a major rehabilitation exercise to ensure that Zimbabwe has uninterrupted power supply by June 2010.
“We have managed to improve the energy situation in the country and as a result, industry and commerce have started kicking but due to some constraints, consumers’ cannot get 100% power supplies at the moment,” Mudzuri was quoted saying.
“We have also managed to undertake urgent maintenance work at Kariba Power Station,” he said.
Mudzuri said he hoped that in the 2010 national budget, to be presented later this month, his ministry would get between US$70 million and US$100 million which would mainly go towards equipment maintenance and rehabilitation.
Mudzuri said he was working on a plan to audit both Zesa and the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe in order to “clear off failure in areas we think management has not done enough”.
Mudzuri also said: “Non- payment of bills is a challenge as even government is failing to pay its electricity bills because of the political environment”
Regionally, most countries also have power deficits and it will be difficult to import power when the country has no foreign currency.
The country requires 1 960 megawatts daily and is currently experiencing a short fall of 310 megawatts a figure analyst have disputed saying it was higher as was shown by increased load shedding. Coronation Financial Service economist and investment analyst Lance Mambondiani said all parastatals were experiencing similar problems as Zesa.
“The parastatal has been haemorrhaging for a considerably long time and teetering on the brink of insolvency. Zesa, like many other struggling state-owned enterprises such as Air Zimbabwe and NetOne, has always been grossly undercapitalised, poorly managed and surviving only because of government funding,” he said.

 

Paul Nyakazeya

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