SINCE the beginning of the year, the country has been experiencing intermittent electricity cuts, leaving industry, commerce and the ordinary people disgruntled.
Fears abound that continued power cuts would result in prices of basic commodities going up as businesses seek alternative power to keep afloat.
The Daily News On Sunday Chief Writer Blessings Mashaya last week spoke to Energy and Power Development minister Zhemu Soda on the power crisis and what the government was doing to resolve the issue.
Below are the excerpts of the interview.
Q: Power cuts are on the increase. What is the problem?
A:What you are saying is true (increase of power cuts) because of the rehabilitation which is taking place at Kariba Dam. Over the years, you have heard issues to do with the Kariba Dam wall which had developed some faults, and that rehabilitation is currently under way.
What has been happening from last year, beginning June, is that they were constructing a cofferdam. The idea of constructing a cofferdam is that they wanted to remove the water from where they are rehabilitating.
They have completed the construction of the cofferdam.
You are very much aware that Hwange power station has been giving us some problems and with what is happening at Hwange, we could easily shift our attention to Kariba power station, which has the capacity to produce up to 1 050 megawatts.
But why are we not producing 1 050 megawatts? There were some currency being discharged by our two units, which are facing directly to where the works are being done, which is unit five and six.
The Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) then asked Zesa to switch off the two units which produce a total of 250 megawatts, which is 125 megawatts each. So, since June, we have been doing without two units and the reason has been we wanted to facilitate rehabilitation of the Kariba dam wall.
At the end of last year, Zesa released a statement that they have suspended the rehabilitation of the Kariba dam wall until early January this year.
The reason was just to allow people to enjoy the festive season without disturbances. We said let us not dampen people’s holiday spirit.
The works have now resumed and recently Zesa issued a statement saying they have resumed the works, the works will be completed on 26th of January.
Between now and January 26 we should expect some kind of interruption which is occasioned by rehabilitation which has resumed.
Q: Are you now focusing on Kariba alone since you said there are problems at Hwange power station?
A:No, we are not focusing on Kariba alone. The government has also taken a keen interest into what is happening at Hwange power station.
What we discovered is that Hwange power station has not been maintained for some years and what was happening was that people were using it as long as it was generating electricity without any maintenance.
However, this time the government has now made an intervention by way of securing a loan to do a proper rehabilitation and renewal of the power station because from time to time we were experiencing problems with boilers and the turbines were failing. The government has said let’s look at the power station and anytime soon you shall hear about the engagement of a project management consultant and he will determine the scope of the work which is going to be done.
The government has already secured a loan from Indian Exim Bank of US$310 million. The loan is going to be used on rehabilitation of unit one to six. If they complete that rehabilitation, we will get to installed capacity, which is 900 megawatts. That is what the government is concentrating on.
Then again you are aware that there is unit seven and eight which are coming as a way of Hwange power station expansion.
The two units will contribute a total of 600 megawatts. Unfortunately, Covid-19 had caused a lot of disturbances and at one time the contractors had to send back their staff to China.
They are now back and the work has progressed as we speak. The two units are now at 70 percent completion and our initial target for the commissioning of unit seven was September last year, but that was not achieved. We are now looking forward to the completion of the two units this year
Q: Will the completion of the two units end the power crisis?
A: We have to be doing something in the interim before the completion of the two units. We are engaging with Zambia to immediately supply us with electricity from one of their power stations, especially along the Kafue.
There are some discussions which are now at an advanced stage where we are looking at importing about 100 megawatts from Zesco. We are also looking at some additional imports from Mozambique. Over and above what they have been supplying us, we are now looking at some additional 180 megawatts to be provided from Mozambique.
So, from Mozambique and Zambia we are now looking at a total of 280 megawatts over and above the power imports that we have been always getting from South Africa and Mozambique and we think this can assist us in our situation in the meantime.
Q: How much are we importing from South Africa?
A: Yes, from South Africa we are still importing, I think up to 100 megawatts and depending on availability, they can do more than 100 megawatts. From Mozambique we are getting around 100 megawatts again because we have HCB (Hidroelectrica de Cahora Bassa) and EDM (Electricidade de Moçambique) that are supplying us.
Depending on the excess that they might have they will give us more than 100 megawatts.
We are saying given the situation we are in, with the expansion which is happening in the economy where we have noticed the growth of our economy, this also speaks volumes of what we are supposed to do as a ministry.
Q: People want to know the current power deficit. How much is it?
A: The shortage is around 200 megawatts and the shortage is mainly caused by breakdowns at Hwange power station. In a normal situation, Hwange is supposed to generate between 350 megawatts to about 400.
Assuming Hwange was producing 400 megawatts, with 1 050 megawatts coming from Kariba, which would give us a total of 1 450 megawatts, then our deficit against the forecast demand of 1 650 megawatts would be 200 megawatts, which we have always been importing.
Now, while we are importing 200 megawatts when Hwange is not producing, it means we now need to increase our imports. With Hwange power station you can encounter a problem at any time, so you cannot talk about the issue of planning.
Q: But minister, the main question is when are we likely to see the end of the power crisis in the country?
A: We are very optimistic that once Hwange power station, especially the two units which we think should be completed by the end of this year and if we are able to get 600 megawatts from Hwange power station and also the completion of Kariba rehabilitation it will add 1050 megawatts, this will solve our situation.
By the end of this year, we should be able to produce enough electricity for our consumption if we take into consideration 1 050 megawatts from Kariba 600 from Hwange, that is 1 650 megawatts in total, that will be enough for us and with the contracts of the power imports that are currently in place, we can always have imports to sustain whatever growth that can happen in the economy.
We are also looking for some other interventions from the private sector.
We have some projects (from independent power producers) which are at 90 percent completion.
There is a thermal power station which is owned by Chinese in Hwange, Zimbabwe Zinghxon Electrical Energy (ZZEE), — anytime they will be coming to the grid line, sending out 50 megawatts. They are not the only ones, we have some who are set to feed the grid this year.
Q: On fuel, why did you remove ethanol blending?
A: Ethanol, which we use for blending, because of what is happening in Zimbabwe currently and world over, it is being used in the production of sanitizers. The demand for ethanol has increased and we felt as the ministry that we don’t want to cause the shortage of fuel by saying blending remains mandatory.
Green Fuel stopped production at the onset of the rain season because their fields are not accessible during this season, leaving only FECZ in Triangle, but it will be producing from molasses and there will be no harvesting this time of the year.
So the production that FECZ had indicated to us, it was not sustainable to continue to allow for blending even at reduced levels of blending.
We felt that even at E5 we don’t have adequate stocks and what we didn’t want was to cause fuel shortages. The situation of fuel in the country is now okay. Blending has an effect of containing fuel prices, especially petrol.
When the FOB price was very high in November and October, it was sensible to do blending because it reduces the price.