Massive power cuts loom

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HARARE – Zimbabwe’s sole electricity supplier Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority Holdings (Zesa) will soon impose massive power cuts to meet increased demand in the forthcoming winter season.

The power cuts — to affect both commercial and domestic consumers — will further cripple the country’s struggling industry, which are already battling electricity shortages among other key challenges.

According to a 2013 winter power supply preparedness report by Zesa’s subsidiary Zimbabwe Electricity and Transmission Distribution Company (ZETDC) electricity demand in winter will increase to an average 2 100 megawatts (MW) against the country’s power generation capacity of 1 226MW.

The country imports an additional 250MW per month.

This means Zimbabwe’s electricity supply will be 624MW short, with the deficit to be compensated through intensified load shedding.

In winter, power demand surges due to wheat production and increased domestic use.

Economists warned that increased load shedding, coupled with the looming election, will have severe negative effects on industry, which is currently operating below 50 percent.

“Although power cuts are usually expected in winter, this will have an adverse bearing on the economic growth rates of 5,4 percent set by government,” said independent economist Christopher Mugaga, adding that the outages will exert pressure on companies’ profit margins of companies, as many would under utilise their capacity.

The bulk of Zimbabwe’s wheat is irrigated using electricity.

ZETDC said only major hospitals and strategic facilities will be exempted from the power cuts.

It said it will commit 960MW uninterrupted power supply to major wheat producers.

“Adequate electricity is key to national food security through Zimbabwe’s self-sufficiency in wheat production,” said ZETDC.

“To this end, ZETDC has been focusing on ensuring adequate power supply for the major wheat clusters in spite of persistent challenges of supply shortfalls that have been resulting in load shedding outside advertised schedules.”

Irrigated wheat production in the country deteriorated significantly over the past few years with the blame being shifted to inadequate power supplies.

Zimbabwe needs about 450 000 tonnes of the cereal annually for bread-making and other purposes but, only produced 16 176 tonnes last season.

The country harvested 87 515 tonnes of wheat in the 2007/2008 season and 150 487 tonnes in the previous one.

The electricity distribution company said at least 100 circuit breakers are currently being installed to improve supply reliability on primary feeders.

The breakers will also assist in managing the winter load shedding programme, which is already being implemented.

“Way leave clearance and pole changes will be prioritised on power lines feeding the main wheat clusters.
Priority in the replacement of vandalised transformers and lines was given to wheat clusters. To date, over 4 420 transformers and 5 800km conductors were replaced at a cost of $32 million,” said ZETDC.

Since 2007, power shortages in Zimbabwe have deteriorated as robust economic growth in countries that previously enjoyed surplus electricity persisted, forcing power generators to redirect their output to internal consumption.

Zimbabwe’s electricity problems have been compounded by non-payment of bills, which have accumulated to over $752 million as at February 2013. – John Kachembere

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