Botswana is likely to experience power outages that were so much a regular feature of 2008 and 2009.
Unless the Morupule B project in Palapye is completed well on time, the power cuts, popularly known as load-shedding, are again expected to plod back and start haunting the prospects of Botswana’s economy, the recovery of which has, to date, remained fragile, slow and uncertain.
Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, has confirmed that due to long turnaround time for energy projects, Morupule B, which is already under construction, remains Botswana’s only hope in the short to medium terms.
The Minister, however, reiterated his position that Government will continue to facilitate conditions to allow Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to enter the domestic market.
To that effect, Government has already amended the law to allow for private participation.
Speaking in an interview, Kedikilwe said he remains anxious about Botswana’s future energy needs, especially what events will unfold the time leading to the completion of Morupule B.
“My anxiety is that we have to be running ahead,” he told The Telegraph.
The minister said he is worried a lot over upcoming huge projects, such as Discovery Metals’ and Hana Mining projects, both of which are large scale mining projects that will need guarantees of steady and reliable electricity supply if investors are to gorge ahead in confidence.
For its part, Debswana has already built a private power station in Orapa to mitigate the uncertainties.
In a recent interview with this paper, Debswana Managing Director, Blackie Marole, said his company invested close to a billion Pula in the facility after they could not be favoured with assurances they had sought from Botswana Power Corporation (BPC).
According to Minister Kedikilwe, the critical time is the twelve months or so between 2012 when South Africa expects an increased power deficit and 2013 when Morupule B is, by present projections, expected to be commissioned.
Under Morupule B, the Botswana Government has secured a loan facility on behalf of power utility, BPC to expand and increase supply at an already existing facility in Morupule near Palapye.
While Morupule remains Botswana’s only hope going forward, the minister has recently emphasised the importance of completing the project on time so as to avert what could degenerate into a crisis that would have far reaching consequences across all the sectors of the economy.
“The situation will not improve significantly and will in fact get worse in the fall of winter 2010 and 2011 if demand is not well managed until completion of this plant,” Kedikilwe said when he recently officiated at the groundbreaking ceremony to mark the commencing of constriction at the P11 billion Morupule B.
While Kedikilwe speaks very highly of the positive role that private power suppliers can potentially bring to the table, the minister has had to contend with inordinate delays of the much vaunted Mmamabula Power Project, a private utility that has for many years been on the cards now.
The ambitious project has not taken off pending guarantees by South Africans that they would purchase the power surplus from the project.
In the absence of such an undertaking from South Africa and a form of down payment before continuing, the project’s viability has always been a subject of doubt not least because with just Botswana as a client, tariffs will have to be significantly higher.
Minister Kedikilwe said he remained hopeful that South Africans will still come to the party.
“My optimism comes from the Bi-national Commission that is led by Heads of State. There is no longer any room for delays because decisions will now be made at the highest levels,” he said in reference to the outcome of a recent state visit by President Ian Khama to Pretoria, where together with his SA counterpart part, Khama agreed to meet Jacob Zuma annually to help fast track projects of mutual interest.
While Kedikilwe is optimistic that Mmamabula promoters will not cancel the project, South Africa has recently announced that they plan to build six nuclear power stations with the help of China, Russia and South Korea.
“But that is not going to happen in the next few years. Big projects such as those take many years to take off,” said Kedikilwe.
Before then South Africa will remain hard pressed, just like Botswana.
But the risk is much higher for Botswana given that the country currently imports close to 80 percent of her power supply, most of it from the South African utility, ESKOM.