Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Ministry misled nation on Morupule B Power

The ill-fated Morupule Power B Power Generation and Transmission Project is causing anxiety as far away as Tunisia where one of its sponsors has confirmed certain aspects of a controversial story that appeared in the November 6, 2013 issue of Sunday Standard. The most dramatic element of this development is that this sponsor, the African Development (AfDB), uses the precise language that the newspaper used. Among other points, the story said that the Morupule project was switched on before it was ready and that the project failed commissioning specification output. Following publication of this story, the Ministry of Minerals, Water and Energy Resources (MMWER) issued a press statement, refuting these and other claims made in the story. In its introduction, the rebuttal said that the story was “highly inaccurate and contains non-factual information which is extremely misleading to Batswana and the public at large.”

AfDB is co-sponsoring the project with the World Bank. The overall project scope includes the Morupule B power station, transmission lines and substations, water supply connections, start-up fuel for commissioning of the plant, project supervision and management and technical assistance. Staff from both banks participated in a joint pre-appraisal and also jointly visited all the project sites in April 2009. As financiers of the project and for quite obvious reasons, both banks are periodically given a warts-and-all progress updated about Morupule.

The warts could include highly confidential information that loan recipients may prefer to keep under wraps but in its governing “Rules, Procedures and Guidelines”, AfDB stresses “the importance of transparency, accountability, competency, and non-discrimination, in the procurement process.” This past Thursday, AfDB weighed in on the Morupule issue through its quarterly Southern Africa Quarterly Review and Analysis which performs the stated task for the fourth quarter of 2013 for all SADC countries. In the Botswana review, under a section headlined “Issues Needing Particular Attention”, the bank raises serious concern about the progress of Morupule B Power .

“In October, the Morupule B Project was thrust into public limelight following a decision by the Government to commission the project. Although Botswana continues to experience power shortages due to a protracted drought, concerns were expressed about the readiness of the project. In particular, it was pointed out that for a project of this nature to be commissioned it needs to meet at least 95 percent of specification output. At the time of the commissioning, the Morupule B fell well below this threshold as it was at 50 percent,” the review says. The November story had stated: “Experts close to the plant told Sunday Standard this week that, “for a project of this nature to be commissioned it needs to meet at least 95 percent of specification output. Morupule B fell below 50 percent.” In rebutting this statement, the ministry stated: “Members of the public are assured that the three units that are operational are generating their rated power output of 150MW with ease and have all gone through the commissioning process, which they passed.”

The ministry’s statement seemed disdainful of expert sources who had requested anonymously because they were not authorised to speak to the press and wanted to speak freely. “It is sad to have “Faceless Experts” making such an assertion when generators, turbines, engineering, erection and balance of plant, which constitute about 75 percent of the cost have, touch wood, hitherto performed flawlessly,” the ministry said. This will not make it happy but another faceless expert – an engineer who has participated in the commissioning of numerous projects and perused both the AfDB and ministry’s statements, says that there is nowhere in the world that a project can be commissioned at 50 percent and be said to have passed.

“Ask any expert anywhere in the world and he will confirm that,” the engineer says. The latter also takes issue with the figures quoted by the ministry. At full capacity, Morupule is supposed to generate 600 megawatts (MW), with each one of the four units generating 150 MW. Half of 600 MW which is 300 MW and while the AfDB report (the authoritative source in this regard) says that the plant was commissioned at 50 percent, the ministry has the boilers generating 450MW which comes to 69.2 percent.

A definition of technical terms is crucial to understanding the Morupule project. No expert that Sunday Standard spoke to objects to Wikipedia’s definition of “project commissioning” as “the process of assuring that all systems and components of a building or industrial plant are designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained according to the operational requirements of the owner or final client.” In everyday language this is what laypeople call “dry run.” The engineer source says that when the project commissioning/dry run was done, Morupule plant did not do half of what it was supposed to. He goes on to give the meaning of “specification output test” as “the actual versus the expected.”

“It is basically what you get out of what you expect,” he explains. The Botswana Power Corporation had expected 100 percent but got 50 percent which – as AfDB asserts in its report, was woefully inadequate. The bank says that “all other activities need to be closely followed up to ensure that emerging concerns are resolved expeditiously so that the realisation of expected benefits from the project are not compromised.” The executive summary of the bank’s Environmental and Social Impact Assessment describes Morupule B as “a large-scale coal power project for Botswana, which has no prior experience in financing and managing such a project, especially in a time of crisis.”

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