Thursday, October 29, 2020

The battle to restore power supply is far from over

The year 2015 is coming to an end but the country’s electricity woes are far from over. That is the bitter reality that pelts uncertain prospects into 2016.

Power and water shortages have crippled business, and there is no doubt that reliable supply is needed for Botswana to maximize the impact of anticipated ESP projects, which are expected to give impetus to the stagnant economy.

Restoration of confidence is needed to convince the business community that their planned investments will gain value. A general tight-fisted attitude was observed in 2015 as businesses jealously guarded their money because of the uncertainty caused by power and water shortages.

In his state of the nation address President Ian Khama made a bold assertion that Botswana is on course to becoming an exporter of electricity. He has also announced the transformation of Botswana from an energy deficit to an energy surplus nation as a development priority. 

2015 going back to 2008

President Khama indicated in November 2015 that government is in the process of engaging Independent Power Producers (IPP) for the construction of an additional 300MW from a brownfield site at Morupule B site as well as 300MW from a greenfield site. Energy Minister Kitso Mokaila announced earlier in March that the additional power plants are expected to be complete by 2018 and 2020. Between Morupule B and the greenfield power plants, the development timeline indicated by the Minister suggests that the long term security of power supply stands to be achieved in 2020. Put differently, from 2008 to 2015 government has moved from one challenge to the next in making sure that Morupule B generates electricity at full capacity. The focus of government, in terms of budget, has largely been on obtaining full functionality at Morupule B. This gives the idea that out of the development budget set aside for energy resources Morupule B setbacks exhausted a large portion of this budget. This could explain why Botswana is taking a long time to secure long term security of power supply; it is because the focus has been on fixing Morupule B than it was on securing additional sources of power supply.  

It is almost a decade since talks of liberalizing energy supply through IPPs first came to the public fore. The inclusion of IPPs to take part in energy supply was granted in 2007 when government amended the electricity power supply Act. It was in 2015 that Mokaila officially announced the completion of procuring processes with regard to IPPs, which at the time awaited approval from government structures. He also cited that cabinet approved the Renewable Energy Feed in Tariffs (REFIT) as a policy instrument in June 2012 which is yet to be implemented. The development of REFIT was informed by a study that government commissioned in 2010 aimed at promoting renewable energy projects. REFIT is another instrument anticipated to liberalize energy supply. The procuring process is without a milestone, which Mokaila attributed to lack of institutional and regulatory framework and incentives to kick start investment in renewable energy projects.    

The efforts on liberalizing the energy market are consistent with securing the long term security of power supply in Botswana. The consistent power supply will also depend on the existence of an Independent Energy and Water Regulator, which Mokaila said is being established. It was in 2015 that Mokaila announced that the Regulator bill was sitting before cabinet for consideration and would later be presented to Parliament. The consideration of the Regulator bill is a milestone, but the real achievement will lie in the regulatory framework coming into full force.  

2016 going forward    

The power outages will continue because the reality is that the anticipated ESP projects in construction and manufacturing sectors will demand a considerable amount of energy, which currently Botswana is not in a position to provide. Botswana’s energy consumption continues to grow but its supply continues to be constrained. This is a glaring mismatch that threatens the economic growth that the ESP is expected to bolster.  

Mokaila publicly declared that by 2016/17 Morupule A will be up and running. He announced that it will have better reality, reduced emission levels and economic lifespan of not less than 15 years. Should Morupule A live up to the promise, the growing demand could be met and possibly restore hope for the long term security of power supply.   

The reliance of Botswana on Eskom, the South African power station, will not cease to exist. Perhaps the dependence may reduce once Morupule A starts operating but the troubles at Morupule B seem far from being abated. The greenfield power plants are only expected to start operating from 2018 which means that the struggles of power supply will continue in 2016.    

 

The dismal and repeated failures that follow efforts to generate electricity have turned Botswana into a clown.

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