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Zesa in dire straits…Zim thermal power stations have gone beyond lifespan, says Gata

POWER utility Zesa Holdings’ multi-billion-dollar electricity facilities have been overwhelmed after prolonged under-capitalisation, internal data showed this week, placing the country’s growth plans under threat.

So dire is the power situation that the seven-page internal document titled Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) Operations Overview, warned that the “viability and survival” of the ZPC had been thrown into doubt by several factors, including a deteriorating foreign currency crisis.

The paper said key facilities had been buffeted by “numerous forced outages owing to tube leaks and ID fan failures” that have compromised reliability.

Zesa Holdings executive chairperson Sydney Gata told journalists during a tour of the 920-megawatt (MW) Hwange Power Station recently that rolling blackouts currently affecting the economy would be addressed by January 2022.

“Electricity supply is a unique service which is demanded instantly,” Gata told journalists on the day the paper was released. “This asset was designed and commissioned in 1983 using 1970s technology, but has been operating non-stop. I am not saying we are ending load-shedding, but come January, you will notice changes.

“This will come from improved HPS (Hwange Power Station) operations and maintenance of the plunge pool at Kariba which we will finish in December.”

But the ZPC data revealed a different story showing generation plummeting to about 10% of installed capacity at two of ZPC’s five plants, while a third has collapsed.

The power giant, with an asset base of about US$4,5 billion as at December 2019, presides over a massive electricity generation infrastructure — a mix of thermal and hydroelectric facilities.

These are Hwange Power Station, the 1 050MW Kariba Hydroelectric Power Station, the 120MW Harare Power Station, the 100MW Munyati Power Station and the Bulawayo Power Station, a 90MW asset said by the report to have been idle.

Hwange Power Station, whose plants were commissioned between 1983 and 1987, is currently generating 460MW, which translates to half of the facility’s installed capacity.

The Kariba Hydroelectric Power Station, which was commissioned from 1960 to 1962, with upgrades from 2017 to 2018, is the only well-functioning facility, generating 900MW out of its 1 050MW installed capacity.

Production at Harare Power Station has plummeted to 13MW out of a maximum 100MW, the data showed, giving an indication to the factors behind Zimbabwe’s rolling blackouts.

It said the massive power facility at Munyati is producing 13MW of a possible 100MW.

ZPC said out of a combined capacity to generate 2 280 MW, output had plummeted to 1 386MW, which translates to about half of this capacity, and executives were last week sceptical, saying some of the mega power stations had been unsettled by forced outages.

“Access to foreign currency is threatening ZPC’s viability and survival,” ZPC, which is battling to service debts, said.

“The thermal power stations have gone beyond their design life. Fundraising is required for new projects and upgrading existing plants (but) ZPC owes substantial amounts to its trade creditors, almost 80% is due for major station input. A number of skilled personnel are leaving the company/country.”

It said ZPC had scaled up lobbying the government to grant it permission to increase tariffs in order to deliver on its mandate.

“ZPC is embarking on life extension and repowering programmes to upgrade existing infrastructure. Apart from the greenfield projects, ZPC is also refurbishing its existing plants which are now old. ZPC is continuously lobbying for a cost-reflective tariff to be able to deliver on its mandate,” the parastatal said.

Gata told journalists during the tour that the power firm would be exploring export market opportunities, even as it struggled to service its domestic clientele.

It projected steeper surge in output this year, with ZPC sending out 8 181,86GWh of energy to the market, 7% above a projected 7 661,90GWh.

“ZPC is currently implementing a number of projects to increase the supply capacity and meet the demand. The project’s portfolio includes a mix of thermal, hydro and solar power plants to be implemented to meet the Vision 2030 national goal of an upper middle-income economy,” ZPC said.

The plummeting power output will be a big hurdle to Zimbabwe’s plans to grow its economy by 7,8% this year.

On Thursday, the Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe said it would be ramping up production next year following a significant recovery in 2021.

However, the Chamber of Mines president Colin Chibafa said the industry was extremely worried about developments in the power sector.

“Survey findings show that mining executives are expecting the infrastructure and energy situation for the mining sector to worsen in 2022, highlighting fragile electricity supply,” Chibafa said in the State of the Mining Industry, an annual survey.

“Zesa’s push for an increased tariff is an area of concern and exporters inability to meet Zesa’s additional requirements to import power from the region.

“Respondents experiencing significant power outages indicated that they were not connected to dedicated power lines, while those experiencing moderate and occasional power outages reported that they were connected to dedicated power lines, but the transmission infrastructure is old and susceptible to faults.

“Most of the respondents indicated that they were facing some power outages. Of those facing power outages, some indicated that they were facing up to six hours of power outages per day, with the rest indicating that they were experiencing more than six hours of power outages per day,” Chibafa said.

The Chamber of Mines survey said there were new projects while expansion of existing operations was underway, specifically in the gold and platinum industries that have potential to increase mineral output in 2022.

“Three gold mines indicated that they had just resumed operations in 2021 and would ramp up production in 2022. Seven other gold mines indicated that they are undertaking expansion projects at their operations,” Chibafa noted.

Zimbabwe is currently battling one of its worst power crises with consumers being cut off the grid for up to 12 hours a day. Zimbabwe Independent

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