Wind power to boost Lesotho

Published Oct 28, 2011


Asha Speckman

PRIVATE South African group Harrison & White Investments has partnered with the government of Lesotho to develop a R110 billion wind and hydroelectricity project regarded as the largest renewable power project in Africa, and one of the largest of its kind globally.

Lesotho is the main beneficiary, gaining a wind turbine manufacturing industry, considerable income from the export of components, the production of additional power and about 25 000 jobs that are expected to stimulate the fledgling economy.

Some 1 500 technicians and engineers will be permanently employed and South Africa will gain additional energy capacity to its electricity grid .

Harrison & White and its technology partner Mingyang Wind Power, which is based in China, have concluded an agreement to build wind turbine component factories in South Africa and Lesotho early next year.

The project is expected to reduce the required capital expenditure for electricity and will contribute to supporting economic integration and political stability in the region.

It is expected to balance trade accounts between the two countries, but is not linked to the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which exists between the governments of South Africa and Lesotho.

Harrison & White and Lesotho’s government have formed a joint company, Breeze Power, which will develop the initiative dubbed the Lesotho Highlands Power Project.

Monyane Moleleki, Lesotho’s Minister of Natural Resources, said: “The project comes at a time in our history when our traditional income streams have dried up due largely to the global economic meltdown. Through this project our country has the potential to graduate from a least-developed country status to a developing country status.”

The organisers envisage the project will operate using 20 000 wind turbines and will be constructed in phases over 10 to 15 years. Costs are estimated to amount to $15bn (R116bn) and will be funded through a combination of debt and equity. Major debt partners include Chinese financial institutions.

Lee-Ann Louverdis, a spokeswoman for Breeze Power, said of the project value, 80 percent was debt and 20 percent equity. Lesotho would contribute $250 million and Harrison & White would provide the balance. Other interested investors are currently in talks with Breeze Power.

The first phase, consisting of a 150 megawatt wind farm, will commence early next year and is expected to be commissioned 12 months later. The project will harness wind and water from Lesotho’s Maluti mountains to produce power.

It is expected that up to 6 000MW of wind power will be integrated with 4 000MW of pumped-storage hydroelectricity to boost South Africa’s electricity supply.

Johan van den Berg, the managing director of the SA Wind Energy Association, said the combination of wind power and pumped-storage hydroelectricity would enable South Africa to provide electricity from renewable energy sources on a very predictable basis.

Van den Berg said it would create the critical mass of power required for a thriving manufacturing industry in South Africa and would assist the energy industry in reaching that goal faster.

He said there were various benefits for the creation of a regional renewable energy initiative. “I don’t think there’s direct competition for South African renewable power producers. We commend the level of ambition and hope to hear more.”

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