Zesa slashes bills

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HARARE – Cash-strapped Zimbabweans are set to get relief from national power utility Zesa’s decision to scrap electricity bills beginning today.  

Josh Chifamba, Zesa chief executive yesterday confirmed to the Daily News that his company would not backtrack on its promise to cancel $160 from domestic electricity consumers starting November 1.

“We remain committed to fulfil our promises and I can assure you that some people have already begun to receive the adjusted electricity bills,” he said.

Chifamba, however noted that the bill adjustment would be implemented in a phased approach.

“It’s not possible for us to bill everyone at the same time. So others will be receiving adjusted bills in November,” he said.

The Zesa boss said consumers on pre-paid meters would also have $160 credited to their accounts.

“When our clients migrated to pre-paid meters, their debts were transferred to the new system and will have their accounts adjusted accordingly, while those with up to date accounts will be credited with $160,” he said.

This comes after the power utility last month announced a $170 million debt relief for domestic customers, resettled and rural farmers.

Zesa said the debt relief to customers was devised after extensive consultations with farmers’ representatives and other stakeholders as a way of contributing to the general economic recovery and success of the agrarian reform in anticipation of the new planting season.

Zesa’s move to slash electricity bills comes after local authorities were ordered by government to scrap water and housing bills running into millions of dollars.

In the run-up to the July 31 harmonised elections, government directed 92 rural and urban councils to write off debts owed by residents since February 2009 to June this year.

State-owned fixed telephone company, TelOne, also recently cancelled $80 million domestic debts in the wake of an increased liquidity crunch in the country.

Industry experts have however, warned that the slashing of bills might hamper the power utility’s efforts to increase power generation and reduce load-shedding.

“It was a well-considered decision and the scrapping of bills will not affect our operations,” Chifamba said.

Zimbabwe has been experiencing acute power shortages since August this year due to annual plant maintenance at Hwange Thermal Power Station and Kariba Hydro Power Station.

The southern African country — which recently roped in Namibia’s NamPower in the rehabilitation of its power plants — is currently producing 861 Megawatts (MW) per day and importing 50MW against daily demands of 2 200MW, resulting in excessive power cuts across the country.

To help alleviate the electricity shortages, government recently opened up the energy sector to private players as the country continues to struggle with its power deficit because of a weak economy and ageing machinery.

Proposed power generating projects are at different stages of implementation as the country gropes in the dark for a lasting solution.

With 11 projects still on the drawing board, only the Kariba South Extension plan has inched forward and promises 300 megawatts for the national grid.

The new Kariba plan however, requires $400 million to take off.

Another long-standing initiative is the Batoka Gorge project for four 200 megawatt power generators in the next six years. This massive scheme along the Zambezi River is projected to cost $2,2 billion.

Work on Batoka Gorge has yet to pass the bidding stages for a comprehensive environmental and social impact assessment and an engineering feasibility study.

Other proposed projects are the Gairezi hydropower station in Nyanga; an extension of the generation life cycle at Hwange; the upgrading of Deka pipeline; repowering schemes at Harare, Munyati and Bulawayo power stations, and a coal-bed methane project in Matabeleland North.

Zimbabwe recently tendered a $400 million solar power project for Gwanda, Plumtree, Munyati and Zvishavane areas as a short-term measure.

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