By JOHN KACHEMBERE AND FUNGI KWARAMBA
HARARE – Zimbabweans should brace themselves for four more months of intense darkness as normal electricity supplies are only expected to resume after February next year.
This comes as the country — battling power cuts for more than a decade — has failed to come up with lasting solutions to meet its increased energy demands.
Zesa Holdings’ subsidiary, the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC), mandated with the generation of electricity in the country, said consumers should prepare for intense power cuts until its planned upgrade has been completed.
“ZPC has managed to generate power consistently over the winter period in order to cater for the increased demand which is normally experienced during this season,” the power firm said in a recent statement.
“Now that the winter period has come to an end, we wish to advise the public that we will be carrying out planned outages for maintenance at the power stations with effect from September 02, 2013 to February 2014.”
Zimbabwe requires 2 200 megawatts (MW) per day while ZPC is currently producing an average of about 861MW, with 150MW being exported to Namibia as repayment of a loan paid to refurbish Hwange Power Station in 2007.
The outages, known as load shedding, are affecting homes, businesses and industries across the nation. Only major hospitals and strategic facilities are being excluded.
ZPC, which is facing challenges in raising adequate capital in order to maintain existing power plants as well as build new capacity, said it has requested the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC) to source additional power during the maintenance period.
Industry experts and economists say the continued and incessant power cuts being experienced in the country have dampened prospects of Zimbabwe’s economic revival.
Zimbabwe’s economy, which showed signs of improvement during the government of national unity between 2009 and 2012, growing by an average of 7 percent, is slowly receding with this year’s gross domestic product growth having been revised further downwards from the initial 5 percent to 3,4 percent.
“Excessive load-shedding will render local industry uncompetitive as companies will be forced to look for alternative energy sources and this increases the cost of doing business in the country,” said Kipson Gundani, the chief economist for the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC).
Gundani noted that government must open up the sector to private players — both local and international — who have enough resources to set up electricity plants in the country.
Over the last two years, Zimbabwe has licensed 12 independent power producers but their contribution to the national grid is yet to be felt.
“I don’t see any industrial revival without adequate power supplies,” Gundani said.
“Zesa must be restructured and made a commercial entity, because clearly government has a lot on its hands and has no capacity to meet the country’s energy needs on its own.”
Zimbabwe’s industry — still suffering from the hangover of a decade long economic crisis — has been bleeding due to cheap Chinese imports since 2009 when government liberalised the economy.
According to the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), the country’s manufacturing sector plunged to 44,2 percent capacity utilisation in 2012 from 57,2 percent in 2011 due to tight liquidity conditions, old equipment and high power costs, and inflexible labour laws among others.
Economist John Robertson contends that if the power situation does not improve soon, industrial capacity will continue to deteriorate.
“Electricity generation is a capital intensive sector and with the liquidity situation in the country, we cannot do it alone because we don’t have the resources,” he said.
Former Energy ministers Elton Mangoma and Elias Mudzuri, both from the mainstream MDC, say Zanu PF made a monumental blunder that was now backfiring with crippling power cuts when it ordered the writing-off of electricity bills.
In separate interviews with the Daily News yesterday, the two former ministers said the writing-off of a staggering $170 million had a knock-on effect on the operations of the struggling power provider.
With demand for electricity traditionally lower during the summer season, Zimbabweans have ironically been enduring incessant power outages, which Zesa links to a reduction of output at its four generating units from 700 megawatts to 200 megawatts.
The power utility says load-shedding is further compounded by depressed imports due to plant maintenance at Cabora Bassa in Mozambique.
Mangoma, the immediate past minister of Energy, during whose tenure electricity distribution improved, said the present government should have devised a plan with regional power suppliers.
“We used to have an agreement with our lenders who we assured to pay at a certain period. That way, we managed to get electricity even during the winter period,” said Mangoma.
In a throwback to the pre-inclusive government era when Zimbabwe was turned into a dark nation, most households in the country are switched off for more than 18 hours a day.
Mangoma traced the problems to a lack of hindsight in the order made by President Robert Mugabe’s government for electricity bills to be slashed.
“The writing-off of the electricity bills was a huge mistake. For instance when we bought the prepaid meters, we agreed with suppliers that payment will be by the consumer, but by writing-off those debts the government failed to invest in the sector.”
Mudzuri alleged Mugabe’s government was clueless and should have invested in the sector rather than pushing populist policies which derailed the recapitalisation of Zesa.
“There is a huge difference between a genuine desire to assist people and a popular move for political expediency,” Mudzuri said.
“If you scrap electricity bills without due consideration it may become disastrous. Now people who are interested in service delivery are suffering. People do not need handouts, they need services.”
The former minister said it was high time the energy sector was opened up to new private investors to ensure maxim exploitation.
Precious Shumba, Harare Residents Trust, (HRT) director said “it is difficult for citizens not to link the government’s directive on debt relief with the current status of unhindered darkness where energy is needed to propel business and economic revival.”
Shumba said at this stage, he was unable to say whether or not Energy minister Dzikamai Mavhaire had capacity to end the shortages.
“But we can definitely say that the minister has taken too long to demonstrate his public appreciation of the energy situation in the country,” Shumba said.
“To allay all doubts and fears among the citizenry, the Minister of Energy and Power Development has to rise to the occasion and answer his critics who genuinely see no capacity in him to tackle this national crisis.”
Mavhaire yesterday declined to comment saying the Daily News had called him late.
“Handidi zvekufonegwa vusiku, kuoffice kwangu mokuziva, huyai kuoffice (I don’t entertain these late calls at night, you know where my office is, come to my office),” he said before hanging up.
The Daily News had frantically tried to reach him during daytime but was told he was tied up in meetings. Former Finance minister Tendai Biti maintains that Zimbabwe is on auto-pilot because the Zanu PF administration was clueless.
Zesa public relations manager Fullard Gwasira was not immediately available for comment yesterday, but the power utility last month warned Zimbabweans to brace for increased load-shedding outside the published schedule as Mozambique’s Hydro Cabora Bassa (HCB) was undertaking maintenance on its plant which had been scheduled for completion by September 9 but took longer than expected.
In a statement, Zesa said during this period, a total of about 250MW will be lost to the national grid as imports decrease from 300MW to around 50MW.Zesa, what is this? Daily News