Botswana faces possible power blackout in future as Botswana Power Corporation, battles to maintain a difficult relationship with its main supplier, embattled South African power utility, Eskom, while struggling to transmit power obtained from Mozambique through Zimbabwe whose unreliable transmission infrastructure has let Botswana down on more than one occasion.
At a recent stakeholders briefing seminar in Francistown, BPC’s Systems Operations Manager, Lovemore Chillimanzi, was struggling to reassure fidgety Francistown businessmen who, having seen through his hollow promises that all would be well, proceeded to drill him with piercing questions that eventually exposed the fact that Botswana’s future is in a precarious position as it later emerged that there are no guarantees that Eskom would stick to its contract with BPC.
Botswana depends on four main power sources, the major one being Eskom, which supplies 350 MW, Morupule Power Station with 120 MW, Hydroelectrica de Cahora Bassa and Electricide de Mozambique, which supply Botswana with 50 MW and 40 Mw respectively.
While BPC continues to mumble inaudible reassurances that Eskom will continue to supply Botswana with power until we attain self sustainability in 2012 after the completion of the expansion of the Morupule Power Plant, it has emerged that the South African power utility might not be able to withstand the increasingly unbearable political pressure from South Africans who are demanding that Eskom cuts power exports to neighboring countries and concentrate on augmenting the debilitating power shortages at home.
It has also emerged that at the beginning of this year, the desperate BPC signed a no guarantees contract that allows Eskom to cut power supplies to Botswana within as little as ten minutes notice. While in the past BPC’s agreements with Eskom have always guaranteed supply regardless of whatever technical or shortage problems they might be having back in South Africa, the new five-year lease gives Eskom the right to cut supplies to Botswana at any time.
“There is a new clause in our new contract with Eskom that allows them to cut supplies to BPC without notice or at very short notice if they encounter any problems. Therefore, Eskom will reduce supply to BPC every time the demand exceeds the supply in South Africa,” said Chillimanzi.
Due to increasing power demands in South Africa, Eskom is said to be under so much pressure that after grudgingly signing a new contract with BPC on January 1 they were cutting supplies to Botswana without warning by January 18. Thereafter, with hardly two months after the signing of the contract, Eskom gave BPC an ultimatum to reduce consumption by 10 %, such that Botswana now receives 315 MW from South Africa instead of the 350 MW that was initially agreed upon.
Chillimazi also revealed that, according to the new contract, Eskom will institute a stepped reduction in supply which will see the South African power giant reducing supply to Botswana from the current 350MW to a meager 150 MW by 2012. It is hoped that the expansion of the Morupuile Power Plant will be concluded by that time.
While Batswana labour under the misconception that the meager power sources that they have at their disposal will carry them through until such a time that they are self sustainable, The Sunday Standard can reveal that this is not true as the BPC has, in some instances, painted a much rosier picture that does not really depict the real tragedy that Botswana finds herself in.
The Morupule Power Station, for example, is touted to be capable of producing 120 MW of power at its peak. It has, however, emerged that one out of the four units at the Morupule Power Station is out of service and is only expected to be operational by June this year, barring any other mishaps, such that the plant presently provides only 90 MW of power.
BPC is also facing insurmountable problems as they have to access power sourced from the Hidroelectrica de Cahora Bassa (HCB) and the Electricide de Mozambique (EDM) plants in Mozambique through the unreliable and unstable transmission infrastructure in neighboring Zimbabwe.
While Zimbabwe cannot refuse Botswana transmission because of the obligations to the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), trade protocol which governs cross border transmissions, it has emerged that transmissions through Zimbabwe almost always fail because of the technical hiccups that occur on Zimbabwe‘s transmission infrastructure.
For example, the pylons on the 400 KV line that transmits power from Mozambique through Zimbabwe to Botswana collapsed from 14 January to 01 February. When the power line did become operational another problem arose as Zimbabwe started experiencing blackouts whose cause could not be traced.
”The Zimbabwean power grid which supplies areas like Francistown, Sowa and Maun was, therefore, islanded on February 3 due to system instability,” said Chillimanzi.
Meanwhile Chillimanzi was non committal when asked if Eskom had indeed guaranteed supply to Botswana for the duration of the contract, sparking fears that the national power utility might bow to political pressure, in the face of increasing power demands in South Africa, and eventually cut off power supplies to Botswana completely.
South Africans are having the worst of the power cuts as large areas of the country can go for as long as five hours without power instigating major traffic jams and closing down massive shopping complexes. Worse still, the country’s economy faces a major disaster as mining houses have at some point halted operations due to unpredictable power cuts. Shares of companies like Anglo American and Harmony Gold Mining slumped while metal prices skyrocketed.
President Thabo Mbeki went on national television to apologize for the power cuts amid threats that the opposition was planning to mount a motion of no confidence against him.
There are repeated and increasingly agitated calls for South Africa to stop exporting power to neighboring countries and give South Africans preference, especially as the power cuts are now harming the economy and their preparations for the 2010 World Cup. Some say that it is only a matter of time before the South African government bows to political pressure and orders Eskom to cut supplies to neighbouring Botswana.