By Blessings Mashaya

BOTH ordinary consumers and businesses alike continue to reel from the country’s relentless power outages, which got worse in Harare at the weekend.

So serious are the capital city’s current blackouts, that its central business district (CBD) — which houses key government functions and major corporate head offices — has had no electricity at all over the past few days, an untenable situation that is blamed by authorities on vandalism.

Contacted by the Daily News on this, Zesa said last night that it was working closely with police to try and bring to book the vandals who are wreaking havoc at its substations around the country.

Police national spokesperson Paul Nyathi later confirmed that they had launched an operation to deal with people vandalising Zesa infrastructure.

“We are having joint patrols with Zesa. Recently, we recovered copper cables, some of which were supposed to be smuggled out of the country.

“We are urging the public to co-operate with law enforcement agents and to give us information on people who are buying stolen copper cables.

“We are going to intensify our surveillance and anyone found on the wrong side of the law will be dealt with harshly,” Nyathi told the Daily News.

This comes as the government is considering partnering with Zambia to install electricity generation equipment at 10 gorges along the Zambezi River, that will produce estimated new energy capacity of 15 000 megawatts a day.

Speaking in the National Assembly last week, Energy minister Zhemu Soda said apart from engaging Zambia, authorities were upgrading power stations, as well as allowing private investors in the energy sector to feed electricity into the national grid.

“We are considering partnering with Zambia to develop 10 more additional gorges that are along the Zambezi River, which will give us an estimated capacity of around 15 000 megawatts. 

“So, that is what we are also considering apart from the participation from the independent power producers (IPPs).

“Apart from that, we are also considering partnering with Zambia to develop the Batoka Gorge Hydro Electric Scheme, which will give a new capacity of 2 400 megawatts — which will be shared between the two contracting states,” Soda told Parliament.

The country’s continuing power cuts have seen mining companies actively pursuing new ways to avoid further loss of production.

As a result, many mining companies are on the verge of signing direct offtake agreements with IPPs, as they seek to ensure adequate energy supply for their operations.

This emerged at the Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe’s (CoMZ) annual conference in Victoria Falls last week, as erratic electricity supply continues to be one of the major hindrances for higher growth of both the linchpin extractive sector and the national economy.

It also comes as power utility Zesa’s subsidiary, the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission Distribution Company (ZETDC) — which was originally meant to buy all the power from IPPs — is not viewed as a credible business partner by independent producers because of its poor payment history.

Zimbabwe currently has more than 20 IPPs registered with the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera), amid hopes that once all of them fully come on stream, this will greatly assist in mitigating the country’s relentless power cuts.

At the same time, the CoMZ revealed at last week’s annual industry conference that miners were engaging Zesa to prioritise the sector so that it could ramp up production.

Miners require an average of 450MW of power a day and are currently operating below their full potential due to a combination of factors that include the ongoing power crisis, unfavourable foreign exchange retention thresholds, capital shortages and high operating costs.

The industry is Zimbabwe’s top foreign currency earner, accounting for more than 60 percent of the country’s current total exports — with miners confirming earlier this year that with more support they could indeed raise their production even higher, on the back of favourable commodity prices on international markets.

Speaking at the Victoria Falls conference, Zesa consultant Cletus Nyachowe touched on the pending deal between miners and IPPs, adding that the power utility would support the sector more, so that it could realise the desired US$12 billion mining economy target by next year.

“We have formed what we call an energy intensive user group (EIUG). Through that initiative, we expect to realise an additional 300 megawatts (MW) coming out of energy efficiency measures.

“The concept is nothing new. South Africa has got one. So, we sat down with intensive energy users and most of them happen to be mining companies.

“The major objectives are to procure power directly from producers and traders through the Southern African Power Pool, pool resources together so that they achieve economies of scale, negotiate power purchase agreements and raise financial instruments to support power purchase agreements and any new investments in power infrastructure,” Nyachowe said.

“We have gone quite far with this and we have huge support from our parent ministry, the ministry of Energy, support from the ministry of Finance and the law allows for this to happen.

“Any big consumer of power is allowed by the current Electricity Act to import power from any generator outside the country, and also to buy power from a generator within the country.

“Once it’s fully operational, we should be enabled to unlock those IPPs that have been sitting (idle),” Nyachowe added.

On his part, the CoMZ president Colin Chibafa bemoaned the current power outages, which he said were hampering mining operations in the country, especially those companies which were not connected to dedicated power lines

He added that the constituted EIUG had been approved by Zesa and Zera.

“A constitution for the EIUG was adopted, and board members were appointed, with the majority of them coming from mining companies.

“The Chamber of Mines is engaging the government and Zesa. Some of our mining companies, especially those that are not on dedicated lines, continue to face power outages resulting in lost production.

“We continue to appeal and engage with our colleagues from ZETDC to prioritise the allocation of power to mining companies,” he said.

Zimbabwe has a total installed capacity of 2 382MW, but has been generating a combined 1 055MW — against a maximum demand forecast of 1 650MW, and resulting in a crippling power deficit.

Over the years, Zimbabwe has complemented its power deficit through imports from the region, particularly South Africa and Mozambique.