Power imports only immediate way out – Official

Imports are the only short term solution to ending Zimbabwe’s power crisis as the country’s generating capacity continues to get dire, a top official said on Monday.

For over two months Zimbabwe has faced an acute power shortage largely induced by a drought which affected the country’s main hydro-electricity generator, and frequent breakdowns at its old thermal power station in Hwange.

So serious have the shortages been that power utility, Zesa Holdings introduced power rationing going up to 18 hours a day.

New projects will only get online to improve the situation after three years.

A top official at the utility’s electricity power generating arm, the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) said dwindling water levels at Kariba would see the firm likely stopping producing at the facility in the next two months.

ZPC’s business performance manager, Bernard Chizengeya, said the country has no choice but to pay up its dues to regional power suppliers and get into fresh power supply agreements as a means to solve the shortages in the immediate term.

Zimbabwe owes power utilities in Mozambique and South Africa up to US$70 million.

“We need imports, that is our best bet currently. We cannot continue running Kariba because if we do, it will run out of water by September,” Mr Chizengeya told local journalists at an energy awareness workshop.

“We need to unlock imports, but we can only unlock the imports by paying what we owe, then we can import more.”

At best, Zimbabwe is currently producing slightly above half of the over 1 400MW it requires to meet demand.

And because of low water levels, Kariba, which was generating more than 400MW in July, will see production slumping to around 180MW this month.

Power production can only improve if Kariba gets more water but this is unlikely to happen in the next eight months, Mr Chizengeya said.

Hwange is at the same time highly unreliable, with the five operating units frequently breaking down because they are overdue for service.

The sixth unit is currently down.

Foreign currency shortages are stalling maintenance operations, Mr Chizengeya said, and the situation is made worse by the fact that its sister company, the Zimbabwe Electricity Distribution Company (ZETDC), owes it over US$600 million.

ZETDC, which is the seller of power to users, is on the other hand owed about ZWL$1.2 billion in unpaid bills by its customers.

Mr Chizengeya said new generation projects the country is working on will only begin to bear fruit at the earliest in 2022 if timelines are observed.

Seven major projects, among them expansion of Hwange, Batoka, Gairezi and Insukamini, are on the cards and have capacity to generate 2 250MW.

“All the projects which we are looking at up to 2027 will bring in 2250MW but that is not going to help us now,” he said.

Zimbabwe is currently only getting 50MW from HCB of Mozambique and could unlock more supplies if the debt is paid.

Power shortages have grossly impacted on business and industry which have lost millions in production stoppages while quality of life for households has also been affected. – New Ziana.

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