THE ZESA Holdings board last week approved management’s proposal to import up to 300 megawatts (MW) of electricity from South Africa’s power utility Eskom, the Financial Gazette’s Companies & Markets (C&M) can reveal.
The imports are expected to augment poor domestic electricity generation.
Well-placed sources at the country’s integrated electricity generation and distribution company told C&M that the deal was one of the issues discussed and approved by the board, led by former Cabinet minister, Herbert Murerwa.
The decision was made after the realisation that Zimbabwe’s power plants were now producing far less power than before; they are producing on average about 900MW, which is about half of the country’s peak period demand.
Although the country has been importing about 50MW from Mozambique’s Hydro Cahora Bassa, the only remaining regional supplier, on a firm contract, this has not been enough to augment supplies.
“The board met management this week and gave the nod to import up to 300MW from South Africa’s Eskom,” a source told C&M last week.
“This will help fill the gap in light of the low electricity generation at Kariba Power Station.”
Experts said importing 300MW from Eskom, which has been reluctant to supply power directly to ZESA because of a debt it previously struggled to service, would add strain on ZESA’s finances, already experiencing a budget deficit.
Due to the risk involved, power from Eskom is not expected to come cheap.
The development comes against the backdrop of dwindling water supplies available for electricity generation at Kariba Dam, the world’s biggest man-made lake.
The Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC), a unit of ZESA Holdings , and ZESCO, formerly known as Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation, operate power stations on the southern and northern banks of the dam respectively.
These draw water from Lake Kariba for power generation.
The Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), which manages the water reservoir on behalf of Zimbabwe and Zambia, has further reduced the allocation of water for electricity generation at Kariba by more than 50 percent to 20 billion cubic metres, from 45 billion cubic metres allocated at the beginning of the year.
Although the crisis has been hugely caused by the persistent drought in the Zambezi River catchment, ZPC and ZESCO however, failed to uphold the prescribed limits for water usage in generating power, a situation that contributed to the crisis.
Now, ZPC has been asked to reduce its production to a maximum of 285MW.
However, should the water levels fall further, power generation will have to be stopped, a situation that could worsen the crippling power outages being endured by the country’s citizens.
Some parts of the country are going for more than 24 hours, if not more, without electricity.
Zimbabwe used to generate about 750MW of electricity from Kariba South Hydroelectric Power Station, but this was slashed to about 450MW.
But due to dwindling water levels in the lake, ZRA further reduced water allocation for power generation at Kariba to 20 billion cubic metres.
This water level is the lowest since the dam was constructed in 1958.
The latest slash means that ZPC could again be forced to revise downwards its generation capacity to well below 300MW, which translates to more load shedding across the country.
The situation has been made worse by the fact that four thermal power stations at Hwange, Harare, Bulawayo and Munyati are now in a deteriorating state, with most of the plants requiring either life extension measures or complete replacement.
Consequently, their generation capacity has seriously declined.
In order to mitigate the pending crisis, Cabinet has also approved the installation of emergency power plants powered by diesel generators as part of efforts to avert the worsening electricity
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