By removing the thermal power station from the national grid, the state-owned power company effectively cut off by a quarter the installed capacity in the generation sector.
In countries where power generation is taken seriously, this would have elicited loud protestations from industrialists and domestic consumers who would start to count their losses and contemplate disruptions to their lives. But here the loss of generation at Hwange passes as another glitch in Zesa’s saga of bumbling. Industry has resigned itself to either using generators or simply waiting for power to be restored. We have become so used to shoddy service delivery from Zesa that the management of the power c ompany and government no longer appear to care about improving service delivery.
The situation at Zesa has continued to degenerate and there is a real danger that generation would one day fail altogether. We are heading that way because the problems at Zesa at the moment are much larger than the malfunctioning turbines at Hwange or the antiquated-but-still-working machinery at Kariba. The technical challenges have been compounded by debilitating structural faults in the organisational strata of Zesa which have remained uncorrected from the time government toyed with the idea of unbundling the parastatal into six companies which all made monumental losses.
The government in its wisdom then decided to reverse the unbundling process to ensure that the parastatal concentrated on its core business. But this has not improved efficiencies. With each passing day the problems at Zesa have continued to mount on the watch of the inclusive government which has set economic recovery as one its core undertakings; an apparent dichotomy.
A recent report commissioned by the World Bank on public expenditure says the problems in the power sector are three dimensional. There is a chronic shortage of electricity, that is to say generation is always lower than consumption. Second, the state enterprise’s generation, transmission and distribution assets are in a poor state. Acquisition of spares, and critical repairs have over the years been deferred resulting in facilities falling into a state of disrepair. Last, the parastatal has been in a precarious financial position for a long time. This parlous state of affairs has had a major knock on the power production with a perpetual deficit of above 500 megawatts out of an installed capacity of 1960 megawatts. Load-shedding has therefore become core-business for Zesa.
In such a scenario, one would think that the inclusive government would apply itself fully and in an astute way to ameliorate the infrastructure and improve power output. We are not talking about building new power stations but to ensure government makes the most of what is to hand. This yearned-for judiciousness is missing and in its place, state imprudence has only made the situation worse. The state of affairs at Hwange is a case in point.
The thermal power plant which went cold this week requires 9 000 tonnes of coal a month at full capacity. But the major producer of coal, Hwange Colliery Company, is working at 35% capacity due to capital constraints. Therefore, even when the thermal plant is mechanically sound, output would always be prejudiced by coal shortages.