Oliver Kazunga Senior Business Reporter
BUSINESS leaders say the prevailing power outages are crippling production across various sectors of the economy while the use of generators as an alternative source of energy remains costly and not sustainable.
Of late, Zimbabwe’s power supply situation has worsened on the back of constant breakdowns mainly at Zimbabwe’s biggest thermal power plant, Hwange Power Station as well as the three small thermal power plants.
Speaking after a Cabinet meeting last week, Energy and Power Development Minister Zhemu Soda said problems at Hwange Power Station and the small thermal power plant in Harare have been corrected while negotiations were on course for the importation of electricity as a short-term measure to lessen the impact of the outages while the country awaits for the results of medium to long-term projects.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) president Mr Kurai Matsheza said in an interview that the current power supply situation in the country was now dire as businesses cannot move forward with production.
“Its really crippling industry, we can’t go forward and you know without power we can’t start our machinery and not only industry is affected. All facets of life and we are really at a point where all our predictions to year end will not be realised at this rate.
“We are actually going back and we hear stories that there is 300MW (imported power) we are not seeing; we have not seen it. From the utility, we don’t want to talk, we want power. So the power situation at the moment is really crippling,” he said.
The CZI president said it was likely that capacity utilisation will retreat this year from 56,25 percent recorded last year largely on account of the obtaining power situation in the country.
Capacity utilisation in the manufacturing sector was projected at 65 percent this year.
“In terms of capacity utilisation level for this year, we are going to register regression. I don’t know the level at this stage because it depends on how sustained these power cuts are going to be, is it going to be just for one month or to last until the end of the year. It depends on how quickly they resolve the problem.
Asked if CZI has ever engaged the authorities over reducing outages on industry from the existing erratic power supplies, Mr Matsheza said: “The real problem my brother has is if there is no power, there is no power.
“We engage them on a daily basis and they tell us if there is power we give you, unfortunately there is nothing. We know the difficulties they are telling us and we know it . . .10 years ago we raised power issues in Zimbabwe even much longer than that.
“If we don’t have a proper development plan of what it is theY are going to do, we are looking like today in 10 years’ time, it will be the worst situation, so something has to start happening now, but they are just talking and nothing is happening.”
He said a number of businesses have 24-hour operations and the existing power outages have disturbed the smooth running of plants and equipment by the productive sector.
Some of the machines, he said, in terms of their efficiency have been compromised as they were designed to operate 24 hours non-stop while others would take time to build up after having been switched off.
“It also takes time to switch on the machine; a machine takes time to build up. Maybe they have got some systems to warm up for 8 hours before you produce.
“And when 8 hours are over, you are into another load shedding schedule so you don’t produce anything at all. A production process is not like switching off an engine,” said Mr Matsheza.
In a separate interview, the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) president Mr Mike Kamungeremu said: “The outages obviously are disrupting production, you realise that there are manufacturers with machines that don’t need interruption and once there is a power cut during a production process in some cases like those in the manufacturing of plastics, they have to throw away all the raw materials, so there are serious losses that are associated with the current power outages.”
He said some businesses were now resorting to using generators as an alternative source of power, but this was not sustainable owing to the costs that came with it.
Mr Kamungeremu said when running a generator, the cost was huge looking at the fuel prices and the cost of repairing and maintaining the generator.
Asked to quantify the quantum of the cost of production induced by the erratic power supplies to business, Mr Kamungeremu said: “I do not have the numbers off hand, but I can confirm to you that the normal cost of power probably at maximum could be around 12c per kilowatt hour at peak.
“We did some analysis sometime back on what the cost of generator power would be and it was around 30cents per kilowatt hour so you can actually see that it’s more than double the power.
“So, it’s a serious concern when you look at fuel, repair and maintenance of the generators, not factoring the cost of lost production, so it’s a serious cost that businesses are having to bear because of the power outages.”
The Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union (ZCFU) president Dr Shadreck Makombe said wheat farmers have also not been spared from the current power blackouts.
“From the onset we used to have meetings to interface with Zesa (Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company) and it would appear that there was an understanding that farmers should be ring-fenced or there should be in clusters wherever there are to curb these outages.
“And it appeared by then it was working, then all of a sudden it was like a bolt from the blue. Even if there is load shedding we are saying it should not be hard on wheat farmers.
“Even if the load shedding is going to be there, may you inform those farmers because you know wheat needs a lot of watering, so given the situation we are appealing to Zesa to be sensitive to wheat farmers at this point in moment and we are saying this because we have got farmers that have been affected in irrigation cycles.
“If you have been affected there is no way you can cover up because wheat goes by stages. If you have missed up to three or five cycles of irrigation, there is no way you can cover up, it means the yield is going to go down,” he said.
Dr Makombe said the wheat crop was at different stages of growth across the country.
“The wheat is in different stages of growth depending on when the farmer put the wheat down, but those that planted early the crop are now at milking stage,” he said.
This year the country has planted close to 80 000 hectares under winter wheat compared to 66 000ha planted in 2021.