The Sunday Mail
Golden Sibanda recently in Kariba
State power utility, Zesa, has ring fenced wheat farmers and key players in productive sectors such as coal miners to cushion them from power cuts to avoid crippling critical sectors of the economy.
Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC managing director Robson Chikuri said on Thursday last week that winter wheat farmers and coal miners will not be cut from the grid despite ongoing power outages.
The country has resorted to regular power rationing in order to balance the mismatch between demand and supply, which was occasioned by reduced generation at anchor power station, Kariba South.
Kariba South, a 1050 megawatt power station and Zimbabwe’s largest power plant, is now restricted to maximum generation of 358MW for the rest of 2019 due to low water levels following the drought experienced last year in its catchment area.
The Zambezi River Authority, which regulates use of water in the Zambezi River on behalf of Zambia and Zimbabwe warned that if power generation at Kariba continued at levels above 1000MW, generators would have to be shut down by September.
Kariba Dam is designed to operate at levels between 485 metres and 474.5 metres, below which the dam faces the danger of depletion, which has serious implications on equipment and future sustainability.
At a time Kariba’s generation capacity is limited, just like 920MW Hwange can only do a maximum 700MWat best due to advanced age, Zesa has to ration power to balance demand and supply.
” There are some wheat farmers who are irrigating 24/7; we have assigned our directors to identify those farmers, who irrigate more than 100 hectares, so that they are accommodated for purposes of not hindering wheat production,” Mr Chikuri said.
He said Zesa was accommodating winter wheat farmers and encouraging them to irrigate either at night or in the day when demand is lower. There are however some farmers who irrigate all day using centre pivots.
“So we have discussed with our general managers to identify such farmers so that they are accommodated…for the purpose of not hindering wheat production in the country,” he said.
Zimbabwe, which requires upwards of 400 000 tonnes of wheat a year, is currently dependent on imports, which have been difficult to bring on the back of acute shortage of foreign currency.
Mr Chikuri also said coal miners, who include the two largest producers, Hwange Colliery Company and Makomo Resources will not be cut off the grid to maintain supplies of coal used in generation of electricity.
Secretary for Energy and Power Development Engineer Gloria Magombo said it was Government policy that key sectors of the economy, including agriculture and mining, will not cut off the grid to avoid disrupting production.
She however said major power consumers in the country should take advantage of off peak periods when the prescribed power tariff threshold is low to irrigate and to drive industrial production.
Eng. Magombo said while the country was experiencing critical power shortages, it was not every sector of the economy being cut off the supply line to balance the demand and supply mismatch.
Zimbabwe’s internal generation capacity stands at an average of plus or minus 1000 megawatts while demand at peak periods, which stands at an average 1700MW, outstrips domestic supply.
It is against this background that Zesa is weighing an offer from Mozambique’s state power utility EDM to import power generated at Hydro Cahora Bassa Dam, which is experiencing overflows.
Hydro Cahora Bassa sits on the Zambezi River, just like Kariba Dam, but is experiencing overflows due to recent Cyclone Idai floods and so has excess water it can use for power generation.
Mozambique has already requested Zimbabwe and Zambia, through the Zambezi River Authority, to reduce the amount of water they release from the Kariba Dam to avoid dam overflow while it will supply the two countries with power at a minimal cost.