BY BLESSING MASHAYA

Power cuts blamed on old equipment at Hwange Power Station.

LONG-SUFFERING Zimbabweans are set to endure worse blackouts in the coming weeks and months, as power utility Zesa Holdings(Zesa) continues to struggle to generate enough electricity and to maintain its antiquated infrastructure.

This has prompted concerned experts to warn that the intensifying power cuts will soon result in sharp spikes in the prices of basic goods, as both producers and retailers try to cushion themselves from soaring costs of alternative power.

This comes at a time that Zesa is receiving very little help from other regional electricity utilities, as many neighbouring countries confront their own debilitating power shortages.

Well-placed Zesa sources said obsolete equipment, including at Hwange Thermal Power Station, was deepening the country’s power crisis.

“There is no good news in sight. Equipment at Hwange, for example, is very old. So, for now, no one really knows when the power supply situation in the country is going to improve. 

“Our trouble has been compounded by the fact that our neighbours are facing similar problems.

“We usually get between 50 and 100 megawatts a day from South Africa, but they are also facing huge problems. We are thus getting nothing from them,” one of the insiders said.

On Monday night, Zesa itself readily admitted that power shortages in the country would persist for much longer, as the utility was battling to fix a major fault at Hwange.

“Zesa Holdings would like to advise its valued customers countrywide that there is limited power supply in the national grid as a result of a technical fault that affected Hwange Power Station.

“The technical fault has resulted in depressed generation of electricity at Hwange Power Station.

“Restoration of service is under way and customers are advised to use the available power sparingly. The inconvenience caused is sincerely regretted,” Zesa said.

The critical power shortages, according to the spokesperson of the National Consumer Rights Association (Nacora), Effie Ncube, were mostly affecting the poor.

“Consumers are seriously affected by power cuts. At home, they have to replace electricity with expensive paraffin and firewood. 

“At the same time, businesses have raised prices of virtually everything. Power cuts force businesses to replace electricity with expensive diesel,” he said.

“This raises the cost of doing business, which in turn is passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. 

“As a result, power cuts are, therefore, eroding the already poor disposable incomes of consumers, pushing up the cost of living,” Ncube added.

The president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers (CZR), Denford  Mutashu, also said the prices of basic goods were set to go up due to the power cuts.

“Power cuts are a huge cost driver as they disrupt supplies from industry, while reducing the shelf life for cold chain products like poultry, meats, fish and fruit and vegetables. 

“When costs pile up, the only outlet is price adjustments to absorb the additional costs of doing business,” he said.

South Africa’s power utility, Eskom, announced more intensive rolling blackouts earlier this week due to ongoing generation capacity shortages.

“While Eskom regrets the escalation in load-shedding, it is necessary to ration the remaining emergency generation reserves, which have been utilised extensively as we are not getting the reduction in demand as expected from the implementation of stage two load-shedding,” it said on Monday.

On the other hand, Zambia suffered a nationwide power blackout on Saturday, leaving a large part of the country without electricity for the second time in a month.

“On Saturday 6th November 2021 at 07:25 hours, the Zambian Inter-connected Power System experienced a disturbance following the loss of significant generation in the Zambian system which resulted in the separation of the entire Zambian power system from the rest of the Southern African Inter-connected Power System.

“This caused a nationwide blackout. Preliminary investigations indicate that the cause of the disturbance was external to the Zambian inter-connected power system,” Zambia Power Company said then.

The power crisis in Zimbabwe comes after deputy Energy minister Magna Mudyiwa recently said the government was doing its best to repair old equipment at Hwange.

“These days we are experiencing power shortages. It is because we are facing challenges at Hwange Thermal Power Station, where we get the bulk of the electricity which we get from three generators operating there, or two at other times and with the worst case scenario we would have none of the generators generating electricity.

“Our machinery at Hwange is old and obsolete.  It has several challenges it faces, hence sometimes you observe that we are forced to load shed certain areas so that some areas can receive electricity.

“Be that as it may, our engineers are busy in Hwange ensuring that they are on top of the situation and ensuring that we get the necessary units up on the grid,” Mudyiwa said.

She added that the situation was becoming difficult to find solutions for.

“At the moment, we have two or three units that are up on the grid … from the 450MW that is supposed to be raised from Hwange we can get to less than 200MW.

“So, to cover for that deficit, it will become difficult because during this … period, the demand for electricity is high. I appreciate the predicament of the wheat farmers.

“We are trying as best as we can to ensure that our wheat farmers constantly get electricity, but at times some of the things may be beyond our control,” Mudyiwa added.

All this comes after President Emmerson Mnangagwa last month directed Energy minister Zhemu Soda to ensure that the country’s power crisis ends within three years.

“Minister of Energy, I want this country, after two years, maximum three years … to have all the energy we want and no one should face load shedding in two or three years’ time … So, we pin our hopes on you. But if we discover that we are pinning our hopes on wrong people, we will look for good people.

“Electricity is at the centre of economic development and … we need people committed to the agenda of development to work for Zesa and the ministry of Energy,” he said in Harare while handing over 197 transformers and 93 vehicles to Zesa.

“I have asked the minister of Science and Technology to invent equipment to make sure that those who want to vandalise equipment are found on the spot.

“The risk and loss control unit of Zesa Holdings is directed to work closely with the police and other arms of the State to eliminate the scourge of vandalism.

“I suspect that some of the vandalism is linked to those who have knowledge of how to reach live electricity wire and the only people who know are Zesa people and ex-Zesa people. You are warned,” Mnangagwa also said. – Daily News