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MPs take Energy minister to task



LEGISLATORS say Energy minister Soda Zhemu is painting a misleading picture of Zimbabwe’s energy situation, which they say is worsening despite his numerous assurances.


 In the final quarter of 2022, Zimbabweans experienced severe load-shedding after the live water storage at Lake Kariba fell below power generation levels, prompting a suspension of operations by the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), after Zimbabwe had exhausted its allocation for the year.

Rolling power cuts lasting up to 18 hours have continued into 2023, affecting businesses and residents countrywide. By contrast, Zimbabwe’s northern neighbour, Zambia, with whom it shares electricity generation at Kariba Dam last month announced an end to load shedding.

 Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation Limited (Zesco) managing director announced at a Press conference that Zambian households and businesses would enjoy access to electricity 24 hours a day.

“We are proud to announce that Zambia will no longer experience load-shedding,” Mapani said.

“Thanks to our efforts in restoring and upgrading our power generation facilities, Zambian households and businesses can now expect a reliable source of 24-hour electricity.”

 Mapani said improvements in power generation came as a result of several initiatives, including the revamping of the Victoria Falls Power Station and upgrades at the Kafue Gorge Upper and Lower power stations, which generated an additional 170 megawatts.

 He also revealed that Zesco was intending to increase power generation at Lake Kariba from the current 250 megawatts to 350MW. This increase in power generation is expected to be realized due to the recent rise in water levels at the dam.

Responding to questions regarding load shedding in the National Assembly this week, Zhemu said that the country has good potential to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, which will help in ending load shedding.

Parliamentarians however dismissed his explanation, highlighting he had repeated the same statement several times.

 “The government has a whole policy that was launched in 2019 – the National Renewable Energy Policy. It articulates how we will transition from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy. We have very good potential for generation in Zimbabwe from solar; also wind is being ascertained as to what potential can be harnessed from wind. We also have the biogas that is also being articulated from the same Renewable Energy Policy,” said Zhemu.

“Mr Speaker, the same policy comes with some incentives especially to the private sector knowing that government alone cannot carry the load. The private sector has been invited to participate, especially in the area of power generation, which they can sell to the power utility as the off-taker or directly to consumers of their preference.

“So, we have a whole policy that speaks to how we shall transition to clean energy sources that are mostly renewable.”

He also said that the country is exploring gas-to-energy projects that can be undertaken within the country, especially with the prospects of getting gas from the Muzaraban areai.

However, this did not convince some legislators who said Zhemu has been reading from the same script over the past years. In response to measures outlined by Zhemu to counter load shedding, Binga North MP Prince Dubeko Sibanda said Zhemu was beating about the bush whilst failing to tackle the important question.

“With all respect, I am quite sure that if the honourable minister intended to give a ministerial statement, he should have done so. This is no longer answering a question, he is basically doing what he was supposed to do before the question was given.

“So I propose that if the honourable minister wants to give a statement, then let him do that, but for now let him attend to questions rather than giving a long, winding speech.” Zhemu has also been asked to present a ministerial statement with regards to areas that have benefitted from the government’s rural electrification programme.

“I would like to request the minister to bring a ministerial statement stating the areas where they have supplied electricity because other areas have poles only.

 “I heard the deputy minister saying the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) does not have money but every time when we do the budget, REA has cash that they take because it is self-funding. “I would like to request the minister to bring a ministerial statement on the issue to do with REA because it helps with rural electrification but we cannot have electricity,” said Paurine Mpariwa, a proportional representation MP.

According to the ministry of Finance and Economic Development blue book, REA spent ZW$9.6 billion and is expected to spend ZW$61.9 billion this year.

 Despite the presence of the policy on making a transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy, Zimbabwe has been struggling to implement due to a combination of policy failure and botched deals.

For instance, in 2015, Intratrek, a company owned by Harare businessman Wicknell Chivayo, won a US$193 million tender to build a 100MW solar project, an ambitious plan aimed at easing pressure on the dilapidated Hwange and Kariba power stations, but the project has failed to take off, eight years later.

This year, Harare City Council penned a US$344 million waste-to-energy deal at Pomona dumpsite in Harare projected to add 22MW to the national grid through waste processing.

The scandal has however sparked a public outcry, with residents and stakeholders saying it provides evidence of corruption by the government in cahoots with MDC-T councillors.

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