Wednesday, December 8, 2021

BPC customers face electricity shock

The recent Gaborone power outage that blacked out city commercial centers, shut down businesses, killed traffic lights and robbed residents of their favourite soapie evenings for days on end may be a prelude for darker days.

Botswana power Corporation (BPC) Chief Executive Officer David Kgoboko says the recurring power outages are a result of a maintenance backlog that has developed over the years. “Within Gaborone itself, we do have cases of transformers that are overloaded, old, overhead cables that are underrated and need to be upgraded,” Kgoboko told the parliamentary committee on Statutory bodies and state enterprises.

Kgoboko told the committee that BPC was putting together a plan for a complete overhaul of the Gaborone network so that it can become more stable. “Currently it is not stable. With the smallest of rains, you have an outage because of equipment that has aged, overloaded, and rotten”.

A source close to BPC has estimated the current depreciated value of Botswana’s electric grid, comprising power plants, wires, transformers and poles, in hundreds of millions of pulas. That the BPC  infrastructure, which gas already gobbled up  tens of millions of pulas, will soon need significant ongoing investment just to keep things running.  This is bad news for local electricity consumers who are already chaffing at the high power bills.

BPC which is technically insolvent entered the COVID-19 period with its going concern status dependent on a government bail-out. The P500 million government lifeline was however sucked into the blackhole in the parastatal’s balance sheet.

It is understood that as Botswana’s electricity demand continued to grow, the BPC rate of transformer installations failed to keep pace. Meanwhile, the cost of installing new transformers has risen dramatically in recent years—on average 5.5% annually for the last two decades, equivalent to a 100% increase in the price of a transformer every 12 to 15 years. Thus, if 30 years ago a utility spent P 4 million on asset replacement, the cost now would be more than P100 million. This has resulted in an aging fleet of transformers.

Last week , the power utility released a public statement about the country’s power supply status during inclement weather throughout this season of rains. “While that is the case, we do have instances of inclement weather conditions which put a constraint on electricity infrastructure is at a time immersed in floods, stricken by lightning and trees would have fallen onto power lines leading to unsafe sagging of conductors, conditions that often lead to our protection equipment triggering to save equipment from further damage by cutting off the power supply,” the statement read. The aforementioned situation often results in prolonged power outages and delayed response by the BPC due to continuous rainfall that makes it unsafe for technical teams to operate.

In his presentation to the parliamentary committee, Kgoboko mentioned that they’ve also picked that they need to beef the cooperation’s maintenance programs and operations. “As a result, we have had to bring experts to come and assist us and also impart skills on our employees for a period of three years, after which we believe we’ll be able to do proper maintenance on the plant and be able to run it without maintenance challenges.”

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