Africa Moyo Senior Business Reporter
NATIONAL power utility, ZESA Holdings, requires a staggering $20 million to replace over 4 000 transformers that were either vandalised or stolen across the country.
Government says thieves are stealing at least three transformers per night, making it practically impossible for ZESA to replace all of them as soon as they are stolen or vandalised due to the foreign currency pickle affecting the country.
Transformer prices differ on the basis of size and capacity but the cheapest one retails at $5 000.
The magnitude of foreign currency shortages in the country, and the subsequent competition for allocations by companies and individuals wanting to process international payments, implies ZESA is unable to immediately replace transformers when stolen or destroyed.
Apart from transformers, thieves are also targeting copper cables despite the attendant mandatory 10-year jail term for anyone convicted.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development Mr Partson Mbiriri last week told delegates during an energy conference held concurrently with the Harare Agricultural Show that vandalism of power infrastructure was hampering Government’s aspirations of uninterrupted electricity supply.
The conference, which ran under the theme “Energy nexus in the field to industry value chain energy provision in the agricultural sector”, was organised by the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera).
Said Mr Mbiriri: “Vandalism at farms and far away from farms is affecting the distribution of electricity.
“ZETDC (Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company) has lost cables that are 7km long (and) three transformers are stolen per night.
“Instead of increasing power generation, we are going backwards to look for transformers.”
ZETDC is the power transmission and distribution arm of ZESA.
ZESA spokesperson Mr Fullard Gwasira told The Herald Business last week that the transformer situation was dire as 4 000 of them need replacing.
“At the moment, over 4 000 transformers need replacing but the frequency of vandalism and/ or thefts is such that we can’t replace them at the same rate.
“Replacement of transformers is an ongoing process and our job is to provide electricity, but remember, we have foreign currency constraints in the country and we are challenged given that the cheapest transformer costs about $5 000,” said Mr Gwasira.
Move to eliminate load-shedding
Zimbabwe has not experienced power outages since December 2015 but some areas have gone for months without electricity due to vandalism of transformers or copper cable thefts.
Government wants to broaden electricity availability in the country, where only 42 percent of the population has access to power.
Mr Mbiriri said there is need to widen power generation to ensure the outstanding 58 percent of the population gets connected to the grid.
But more importantly, the signs of economic growth being experienced in the country since December last year also imply more electricity would be required going forward.
Already, the expansion of Kariba South Hydropower Station has been completed and the project was commissioned in April by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Kariba South is now feeding 300MW into the grid, and the plant’s installed capacity has risen to 1 050MW.
The expansion of Hwange Thermal Power Station, where two more units, 7 and 8 would be added, begun on August 1, barely two months after the groundbreaking ceremony by President Mnangagwa.
Once the expansion has been completed in the next 42 months, 600MW would be added to the grid while Hwange Thermal Station’s capacity would jump to 1 520MW.
Further, a number of Independent Power Producers (IPPs) that had shelved their projects due to low demand for electricity as industries closed in the last two decades, are resuming the projects.
RioZim Limited’s 2 400MW thermal power station project has been in limbo since 2010 but it got fresh impetus since November last year when the new administration led by President Mnangagwa opened the country for business by tweaking investment laws that spooked foreign investors.
Now, RioZim is understood to have shortlisted five firms and close sources say Sino Hydro’s sister company, Power Construction Engineering Company (Power China), is in pole position to land the $2,1 billion electricity project.
Mr Mbiriri said: “We are able to assure you that there will be no load shedding (but) we need to secure local power generation.
“Hwange Thermal Power Station expansion started on August 1 and we are frantically working on Batoka where we will get 1 200MW. We will also extend the life of Hwange, Bulawayo, and Harare and possibly create a new thermal power station in Munyati.
“Financial closure for IPPs was difficult to achieve as demand for electricity was low due to a shrinking economy. No banker wants to extend money for a project that will not have uptake.”
However, Mr Mbiriri expressed concern over the loss of power during distribution.
He said ZESA was losing up to 16 percent of generated power while distributing.
Mr Mbiriri advised ZESA to “improve distribution” to cut loses.