|The abundant potential of Luapula river remains untapped amid power woes|
Oct. 21 (Zambia Informer)-----Zambia may be in dire need of maximizing its energy potential of 6,000 megawatts unlike the presently 2,17 megawatts of power shared among various end users, but some potential projects are still on the drawing board.
Last year, the Government and the private power producers, including Copperbelt Energy Corp., the Kitwe based provider of power to the mines and other consumers as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo showed willingness to tap into the Luapula river to maximize and use the water to generate power to compliment other hydro sources.
Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last August announced intentions to develop the would be 800-megawatt hydropower plant to be set up on the banks of the Luapula River, forming part of the border between the two countries,
This initiative, was as per Memorandum of Understanding forming part of long-term measures to boost power generation in the region. The MoU, according to the two Governments , was meant to see a joint hydropower projects commence next year with completion ande commissioning date around the year 2020.
According to some of the synopsis adduced from the MoU, according to sources close to the project, the hydro power plant if completed was going to assist Zambia manage the power deficit because of limited output capacity by the country’s electricity supply utility Zesco. This comes in the wake of depleting water levels in the Kariba Dam and other hydropower plants dotted in the country spurred by poor rainfall.
The falling water levels in among other major sources, the Kariba and Itezhi-Tezhi reservoirs to the lowest ebb because of poor rainfall in the 2014/2015 rainy season. This has since forced the regulators, Zambezi River Authority to ration water in excess of 10 billion cubic litres used for power.
This has since forced Zesco the power utility to lose over $115 million because of power cuts to save the equipment, lacking investment for over 39 years from damage, forcing customers to use power to eight hours per day.
During the signing, Zambia’s mines minister, Christopher Yaluma had stated that the signing of the MoU could help in alleviating the country’s power woes as well as enable Zambia remain competitive among its fellow members under the Southern African Power Pool.
Now, he envisioned it was time the country needed to position itself in responding positively towards attainment of universal access to electricity for the rural populace. It was Government’s commitment to accelerating the development of the hydropower sites as a way to enhance security of power supply, promote electricity trade and stimulate economic growth for the region as a whole adding.
"Currently, the power balance in Zambia is very tight and load shedding is being applied as a way of managing the levels in the country's main reservoirs arising from poor rainfall last season. Therefore, the expeditious implementation of the hydropower sites on the shared river course of Luapula is indeed a priority for Zambia", he said.
It is the country’s desire to raise power output to over 400 megawatts with the oncoming of various mini hydro plants including the Maamba thermal plant which has already added 150 MWs to mitigate the current energy deficit.
Zambia and DR Congo’s power company, SNEL, resolved that they would jointly work together and ensure the luapula river was maximized as well as be supplemented by the 330v transmission interconnector from Solwezi to Kolwezi in the DRC to support the hydropower projects, according to Jeanot Gamanda, the DRC's Minister of Hydraulic Resources and Electricity.
Last December, Copperbeket Energy Corp., spent over US$4 million to conduct feasibility studies on Luapula River in identifying sites where hydro-power plants can be installed. In the last four years, the company added it had embarked on numerous projects intended to improve power supply to its clients, including the Kabompo Power Hydro Project in North-Western Province, which will be generating 40 megawatts of power once completed, said its managing director, Owen Silavwe.
“We have undertaken feasibility studies on the Luapula river and we understand its potential,” he added. “we plan to set up a power generation plant there but that will depend on hos soon Government responds to our request.
He noted that while there have been initial efforts made between Zambia and DR Congo Governments, CEC was willing to return to the project and contribute roughtly 800 megawatts of power for the country, he stated in a recent interview.
In a later interview CEC board chairperson Hanson Sindowe said while the company was ready to return to the project, little or no information has been communicated to the company despite every effort made to seek permission to undertake works on the site as a measure to bolster power generation.
“We have submitted our expressions of interest to Government…..its now up to them to respond and we are waiting,” he added while commending the Government for signaling the company’s construction of the 40 megawatts Kabompo Power Hydro Project in north western Zambia, expected to create over 1,000 jobs for the local people during the construction stage.
However, the delay has raised eyebrows among key players including some traditional leaders in Luapula who fear that Government’s silence was a cost of the economic growth prospects for Zambia and an urgent decision needs to be made over the Luapula river project.
“Why is Government dragging its feet over the development of Luapuia river”? wondered Chief Kaputa of the Tabwa people in Luapula province in a recent interview. “We are struggling to grow the economy, yet Government is allowing some important projects to gain dust on the drawing board……I urge them to quickly look into the matter because we are being affected adversily.” The traditional ruler added.
However, sources close to the project say the Government has remained undecided on the matter although several independent power producers including foreign ones as well as the mines have indicated willingness to tap into the river.
During the 2016 Zambia International Mining and Energy Conference (ZIMEC) hosted in Lusaka, several players wondered why Zambia was grappling with energy yet availed with 60 percent of water resources in the region as well as several mini hydro power plants that need to be developed.
However, Energy Regulation Board (ERB) chief executive Lingiwe Lungu agreed with some of the concerns and that efforts are being done to develop such sites and ensure more energy is developed as Zambia seeks to migrate to cost reflective tariffs unlike the US$0.4-US$0.6 cents a kilowatt hour it charges, far less than its neighbors in SADC.