Malawi President Joyce Banda. File photo: AFP

Blantyre - Malawi President Joyce Banda on Friday opened a new hydro-electric plant, which the government hopes will curb blackouts and sate a growing appetite for energy in the East African country.

The 55-million-dollar Kapichira II plant in the southern district of Chikhwawa increases adds 64 to 351 megawatts to the national grid, against a forecast peak demand of 350 megawatts.

Kapichira II was expected to help meet industrial demand for electricity and to help connect 21 rural centres across the country to the power grid.

By next year, demand is expected to reach 571 megawatts.

Blackouts are so frequent that national energy corporation Escom was forced to change its slogan from “Power all day, every day” to “Towards power every day.”

Escom's generation capacity suffers from ageing equipment and siltation in Shire River, where the major hydro-electric power stations are located.

The Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Industry says power cuts have affected the competitiveness of the private sector. The MCCI also complains that power is becoming expensive.

If the government allows Escom to go ahead with plans of raising tariffs, Malawi's average electricity tariff would become the highest in the region.

The Kapichira II is part of government plans to add more than 1 000 megawatts to the power grid. The plans also include an interconnector project with neighbouring Mozambique.