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Eskom threatens to turn the lights off in Zim

Energy
Harare - Reduced electricity generation by Mozambique’s Hydro Cahora Bassa (HCB) and threats by Eskom to cut power supplies to cash-strapped Harare over an outstanding debt could plunge Zimbabwe into darkness.

Zimbabwe has to import power from Eskom and Mozambique to ensure that supplies are stable. Nevertheless, power outages have been frequent in the past few months. Zimbabwe has a maximum electricity generating capacity of about 1100 megawatts, whereas peak demand is more than 1400MW.

President Robert Mugabe’s government has embarked on upgrades to ageing power plants at Hwange and at Kariba and has awarded contracts to independent power producers, although most of these have not taken off.

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Eskom interim chief executive Matshela Koko says Zimbabwe has not adhered to the repayment plan. Photo: Nicholas Rama

“HCB will have to use only the amount of water that flows into the reservoir in the next few months,” Pedro Couto, the chairperson of the Mozambican hydro electricity generator, said yesterday.

The reduction in power generation by Cahora Bassa has been prompted by low water levels in the dam reservoir.

There are about five turbines at HCB, and each unit can produce over 400MW of electricity. But, because of the low water levels, combined output from the power plant will now be about 1200MW.

Eskom has warned Zimbabwe that power supplies to the country will be cut if Harare does not settle a debt owed to the South African power utility by the end of this month.

Matshela Koko, the Eskom’s interim chief executive, wrote to the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (Zesa) last month, stating that Zimbabwe has a payment shortfall of about R118.5 million.

Eskom exports about 300MW of electricity to Zimbabwe under a non-binding agreement.

“It is unfortunate that Zesa has not been able to adhere to this repayment plan. The balance at end of March 2017 according to the plan should have been R484 721 980, but the actual balance was R603 176 479, leaving a shortfall of approximately R118 454 499,” Koko wrote.

Zimbabwe owes about R500 million to the Mozambican power producer.

Read also: Eskom puts Zim on notice over power debt

The threats by Eskom have raised fresh concerns of possible black-outs in Zimbabwe that have previously disrupted productivity in key manufacturing and mining industries, as well as in tourism, another big forex earner.

“The warning to Zesa by Eskom is a serious cause of concern. The need to deal with the power problems in the nation falls squarely in Mugabe’s court, (and) at the present moment the crisis deals a blow to any hope of economic growth,” Jacob Mafume of former finance minister Tendai Biti’s PDP opposition party said yesterday.

However, officials in Zimbabwe say a power crisis will be avoided, with Josh Chifamba, the chief executive officer of Zesa, saying the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe will provide some funding.

He also said that the power utility would engage chrome and ferrochrome producers - which Mines Minister Walter Chidakwa has described as “power guzzlers” - to obtain cash to cover the Eskom debt.

Chifamba has said that Zesa has not been awarded a tariff increase since 2011, and there has been no financial provision for temporary emergency power, which have negatively affected its financial position.

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