Rolling blackouts threaten govt’s Vision 2030

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Minister Fortune Chasi

PHILLIMON MHLANGA

Crippling blackouts threaten to derail government’s plan of attaining an upper middle income status by 2030, a senior government official has said. The blackouts have seen electricity consumers enduring long-hours of load-shedding over the past month leaving companies counting the losses.

Electricity is a critical economic enabler, meaning ZESA should supply adequate and affordable power to consumers. This can be achieved through effective risk management which enables stability and containment of losses and leakages, according to Energy and Power Development minister Fortune Chasi.

“The load-shedding that we are currently experiencing is an undesirable risk scenario for economic stability and growth. This is a challenge which we must collectively put our heads together and resolve as it threatens to derail our attainment of Vision 2030 of an upper middle income economy,” Chasi said in a speech read on his behalf by his deputy Magna Mudyiwa at the ZESA Holdings risk management Awards ceremony held in the capital last week.

ZESA’s power generation unit, the Zimbabwe Power Company, operates five power plants in Kariba, Hwange, Bulawayo, Munyati and Harare.

However, most of its power plants have reached their design lifespan of 25 years and now suffer frequent breakdowns resulting in inadequate local generation of electricity.

The situation has been worsened by dwindling water in the Kariba Dam for power generation. This has resulted in the power utility introducing a crippling load-shedding last month.

The country requires about 1 700 megawatts (MW) but generates about 1 200MW. To cover for the shortfall, the power utility imports electricity from regional suppliers, especially South Africa’s Eskom and Hydro Cahora Bassa of Mozambique on a firm and non-firm contract basis.

Chasi said rolling power cuts are anathema to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe is open for business hymn meant to lure foreign direct investments.

“…when there is no adequate power, the mantra Zimbabwe is open for business is made hollow,” he said imploring the power utility to maintain current plant and equipment in a good state of repair since replacement requires foreign currency which is not readily available.

With good risk management, Chasi said, ZESA would play a significant role in easing the pressure for forex demand on the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

Chasi also bemoaned eroded cost of electricity after the February Monetary Policy Statement which reviewed the rate of the local currency to the United States dollar.

“Ordinarily, an equal adjustment in the tariff should follow, but the impact of such adjustment to the economy needs to be managed carefully,” he said.

“While the issue of the tariff is being considered, the company (ZESA) is implored to come up with ideas of sustaining its operation efficiency, without solely relying on the adjustment of the tariff which may take long to come.”

ZESA is also battling rampant theft and vandalism of electricity infrastructure amid indications government was considering declaring the scourge of vandalism and theft a national disaster to enable a national response in dealing with the issue which has ravaged the economy.

Last year, vandalism cost the power utility more than US$4m.

“The issue of theft and vandalism does not only cause blackouts to electricity users, it also negates growth of the power utility when stolen equipment has to be replaced at high cost. My ministry has been seized with the issue and is considering declaring it a state of
national disaster so that appropriate national response can be mobilised to address the scourge of vandalism,” Chasi said.