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Golden Sibanda Senior Business Reporter
Mozambique has offered to export power to Zimbabwe and Zambia in exchange for further reduced generation at Lake Kariba, to cut down on water released by their hydro power plants, whose discharge is worsening overflow at Cahora Bassa Dam.
If this materialises, the offer will provide huge relief for the two countries that have already whittled electricity generation at Kariba North and South amid concerns over fast receding lake water levels due to drought in the dam’s catchment areas.
But even at the current reduced power output levels, the two hydro power stations at Lake Kariba still release significant amounts of water, which have worsened the situation at the already overflowing Cahora Bassa Hydro Electric Dam.
Cahora Bassa had to increase discharges into downstream Zambezi River in order to safeguard Mozambique’s largest, most efficient and main source of hydro electric power supply as levels in the reservoir have been fast rising.
Zimbabwe and Zambia generate power on the northern and southern banks of the Lake Kariba wall and share equally water from the world’s largest man-made inland lake, which is however receding fast following the drought last season.
The Zambezi River Authority has since rationed water consumption by Zimbabwe and Zambia’s power utilities, ZESCO and ZESA, which will see them generating at prescribed thresholds, 358 megawatts for Zimbabwe and 392MW for Zambia.
ZRA administers the affairs of Lake Kariba and Zambezi River on behalf of the riparian states, Zimbabwe and Zambia, straddled by the river stretching up as far as north western Zambia, where it begins its journey of 2 700 kilometres.
ZRA chief executive Munyaradzi Munodawafa, told a touring delegation led by new Energy and Power Development Minister Fortune Chasi recently and ZESA officials, that Mozambique had offered power to Zimbabwe and Zambia to reduce discharge from the lake.
On enquiry, Minister Chasi was told by ZRA officials that Zimbabwe and Zambia may get as much as 500MW from Mozambique, without the parties involved having to exchange any or significant amounts of money for the deal.
“We should be going to discuss that issue, we should be going with ZESA, ZESCO and their transmission people so that we sit together and agree how much Hydro Cahora Bassa (HCB) can give out without requesting for money and without also the transmission requesting for wheeling charges and all that,” he said.
It is expected that the energy for water-cuts issue will feature on the agenda at the Sadc energy ministers planned for this week.
Zimbabwe has over the last four years needed an average of US$40 million to import power to avert rolling power cuts that rocked the country since 2007 and in the end accumulating debts of US$80 million.
“So if we agree on that then there will be a little bit of some mitigation.
“They can give maybe 500 megawatts, which can be shared between the two utilities, that is why we want to go and do, we have already in principle agreed with the two utilities, we talked to ZPC and ZESCO and they said go ahead.”
However, the two countries will not need to part with huge sums of foreign currency if the deal sails through, as it may entail a barter exchange where Zimbabwe and Zambia reduce hydro power generation at Kariba and get power from Mozambique.
From Kariba, the Zambezi River proceeds along the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia and enters Mozambique where it feeds the Hydro Cahora Bassa hydro electric dam before eventually emptying its water into the mighty Indian Ocean.
Mozambique, which operates the largest hydro power scheme in the region, is experiencing serious challenges dealing with dam overflow at Cahora Bassa Hydro Electric Dam following two recent powerful tropical cyclones.
Zimbabwe and Zambia have started electricity-supply restrictions following one of the worst droughts on record caused plunging water levels at the hydro-power dams it relies on for almost all its supplies, the state-owned power utility said.
The two countries depend heavily on the Lake Kariba for power, with Zimbabwe having rated capacity of 1 050 megawatts while Zambia can churn out a maximum of 1 080 megawatts from the US$5 billion giant water reservoir.
If power generation is unrestricted, the Kariba Dam that has maximum operating water level of 485 metres and minimum level of 475,5 metres and with reservoir’s water level at 480 metres and receding fast, risks depletion.