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Power Crisis: 500 jobs on the line as Sable Chemicals threatens closure

The country’s sole Ammonium Nitrate (AN) fertiliser manufacturer, Sable Chemicals, will on Sunday shut down following the announcement by Energy and Power Development Minister, Dr Samuel Undenge on Tuesday that 40 Megawatts it has been receiving will be diverted to residential areas.

Minister Without Power: Dr Samuel Undenge
Minister Without Power: Dr Samuel Undenge

The firm claims the closure will render over 500 people jobless.

Addressing parliamentarians on Tuesday, Minister Undenge said Government would employ drastic measures that include directing mining companies to load shed operations that would save the country about 25 Megawatts (MW).

The Kwekwe-based company owes Zesa about $150 million.

Sable Chemicals chief executive officer, Mr Jack Murehwa, said the company would on Sunday suspend operations, shedding off 500 jobs in the process.

“We have read what the minister said through the Press. He is the minister and what he says is policy and therefore we wait to see what the next course of action is. What this therefore means is that if power supplies are cut, we will stop manufacturing fertiliser and the 500 people we are employing will become jobless because we have no alternative source of power. Following the Minister’s announcement, we are shutting down on Sunday,” he said.

Mr Murehwa, however, said the company, a joint venture between Chemplex Corporation and TA Holdings’ feasibility studies of adopting new technology, which would use Coal Bed Methane (CBM) had been successfully completed.

CBM is a method of extracting methane from a coal deposit through a process called steam reforming.

Methane absorbed into a solid coal matrix, will be released if the coal seam is depressurised and hydrogen will be extracted.

CBM, which will generate electricity once commissioned, will be fed in the national grid unlike the current electrolysis plant, which was set up in 1972 that has become expensive to run due antiquated machinery.

Mr Murehwa said the company was now looking for funding, believed to be around $600 million to construct a pipeline to transport gas from Lupane gas fields to Sable Chemicals plant near Kwekwe.

When Sable Chemicals is operating at full capacity it requires 115 MW to produce 240 000 tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate Fertiliser per year.

This year, the company was geared towards producing 100 000 tonnes ahead of the summer cropping season.

The firm was in September 2009, forced to suspend operations as it could not pay for the high electricity tariffs charged by ZESA. Government had to intervene by appointing a special cabinet committee to map the way forward.

Production resumed two months later after an internal arrangement between the Government and ZESA. The country has during the past few years, been forced to import fertiliser as the local companies were failing to meet demand.

The low yields recorded by farmers over the same period were largely as a result of either shortage of the fertiliser or late delivery of the commodity to farmers. The Herald