|‘No short-term power solutions’|
|Saturday, 21 July 2012 00:00|
Zimbabwe’s energy sector has for some time been riddled with a host of challenges that have inevitably spilled into other sectors and negatively impacted on performance. Our Senior Reporter Obert Chifamba (OC) talks to Energy and Power Development Minister Elton Mangoma (EM) for some clarity on the problems bedeviling one of the country’s most critical sectors.
OC: Minister, there is a lot of uncertainty on the capacity of the energy sector, particularly on the generation of adequate electricity to power industry and breathe life into the economy. What is the state of the country’s electricity supplies? Are they improving or going down?
EM: Our situation is dire at the moment. There is more demand than supply. We are failing to generate enough electricity to meet the country’s requirements in all aspects.
OC: What measures are you putting in place to address the situation?
EM: We have lined up a number of measures to try and take care of the problem. The measures will, however, not be implemented at once. There are short, medium and long-term strategies that we are rolling out as a ministry and we have to do that without delay.
OC: Can you enumerate on these different measures that your ministry is planning to roll out?
EM: As part of the short-term solution we are looking at ways of enhancing the capacity of Hwange Power Station while the immediate commencement of gas drilling and extraction in Lupane will also provide some respite. The issue is already going to tender and drilling must start soon.
We will use the gas to generate electricity while consumers can also help the situation by swapping high-energy incandescent lamps for the compact fluorescent ones that consume less energy. We are also installing pre-paid meters to allow consumers to exercise self-governance on their consumption trends- and this should be complete by October this year. We are also trying to promote the use of bio-energy and we have started setting up prototypes in Mbare, Harare Hospital and Roosevelt High School.
That is one sure way of reducing over reliance on conventional electricity that unfortunately is in short supply. We are also encouraging the business community to be innovative and come up with products that do not require high-energy use, for instance, solar lamps that some companies are manufacturing. Solar energy is one alternative that we need to seriously consider, as it does not require much investment in terms of infrastructure and labour capital.
OC: Can you also outline the medium term plans that you have mapped out to save the situation?
EM: We are planning to expand Hwange and Kariba’s generation capacities and as we speak we have already gone to tender for the project to start. We have also allowed indigenous players to partner the industry and we are also negotiating with a Chinese company for a partnership to generate more power. The deal will generate additional 1 000 megawatts when completed.
OC: And the long-term plans?
EM: There is the Batoka Gorge project. We have already started the process. We are also looking at Inga in DRC and the Gairezi hydro-electricity project that will also bring in 30 megawatts. This one was actually started last week and we will do a groundbreaking ceremony in September.
OC: There are concerns that load shedding is being done selectively and that your ministry is not doing enough especially to save critical sectors like agriculture and mining. Your ministry is reportedly deliberately ignoring the sectors to make sure the economy remains stagnant. What is the position?
EM: My office is far removed from the control of power and load shedding in particular. I do not even know who switches electricity off during load shedding. I have also suffered from load shedding just like every other Zimbabwean. If you want you can even ask my maid how often she has had to switch to other energy sources to prepare meals in the wake of load shedding. Everyone is affected. It is not farmers or industrialists alone.
OC: Many people have a feeling that you are deliberately sabotaging the agriculture sector so that the land reform does not yield the desired results?
EM: Why would anybody sabotage agriculture when we all know that it is the backbone of the economy. There is just no money for the establishment of more infrastructure for the generation of more electricity. Even if I had wanted all the electricity to go the agriculture sector, the reality is that there would still be a deficit and when they do load shedding they do not look for names.
This is a national crisis and every sector is affected. What we should all bear in mind is that my ministry also looks up to Treasury for funding and it is that same Treasury that is struggling to raise funds for the entire economy. I have nothing against the land reform.
OC: I understand the country has a huge debt with regional suppliers of electricity that is estimated at over US$20 million. What is the exact position at the moment and how is it going to be serviced in the wake of the current liquidity crunch?
EM: I cannot talk about that at the moment. I do not have information on the exact situation, but the thing is people must worry about finding resources to revitalise the sector urgently to allow all other sectors of the economy to start operating profitably.
OC: There is the Chisumbanje Ethanol Project where work has been temporarily halted due to lack of demand for their product. An estimated 10 million litres of the fuel are sitting idle yet we do not have adequate fuel resources in the country. What is Government doing about the situation to make sure the product is not put to waste and that jobs are saved?
EM: What they have done at Chisumbanje is not proper and was not approved by Cabinet. How can one white man be allowed to take 2 500 hectares of land purportedly for a project and displace thousands of people in the process? It is 32 years after Independence and one white man comes to deprive an entire community of their farming land to produce a product whose price is pushing it out of the reach of the majority. It means that product is not important to the community. Is this not a reversal of the gains of the land reform the Government undertook 12 years ago?
The white owners of the project are heartless. We hear that at one point one of their irrigation canals burst and flooded a nearby school destroying books and various stationery units, but the white man has not cared to help the school even on a single day.
Maybe it could have made sense if the land had been further sub-divided to accommodate the local community instead of allowing one person to take it up and later fail to give back to the community.
OC: So what will become of the 10 million or so litres of ethanol they have produced if they are not allowed into the market?
EM: We are saying they have to revise their price downwards. A price of between 30 and 40 cents per litre is way above the international prices for the commodity. Ethanol from Triangle is cheaper so what is special about their product? Some vehicles also were not designed to consume that fuel. There must be clear logistical arrangements on how the cars can be converted to use ethanol safely.