Namibia to Switch on Zim Power

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK National power utility Nampower yesterday said it would start receiving electricity from Zimbabwe, under the US$40 million (N$290 m) power purchase agreement in December, a month earlier than planned. Under the agreement signed by the two countries, the power import was to start in January 2008 but this has been brought forward to December 2007. Nampower Managing Director Paulinus Shilamba told New Era that progress has been made during the past two months to refurbish the Hwange Power Station using the US$40 million to revamp the aging and overstretched station. Namibia’s maximum power demand stands at 410 megawatts. As a result, it imports between 50 and 150 megawatts from neighbouring South Africa depending on the time of day, Shilamba said. Locally, the Ruacana plant generates a maximum of 240 megawatts, usually during the rainy season when the river is full. Paratus plant with a generation capacity of 24 megawatts and Van Eck whose capacity stands at 120 megawatts are stand-by utilities. Currently Zambia and Zimbabwe, which are on non-firm contracts with the country, supply approximately 50 megawatts of power to Namibia. Nampower earlier this year struck a US$40 million deal with Zimbabwe’s ZESA under which the Namibian company would provide US$40 million (N$290 m) to rehabilitate and upgrade the coal fired Hwange Power Station. Namibia would in turn be guaranteed 150 MW of electricity supply. Shilamba told New Era that since the signing of the multi-million dollar loan and power purchase agreement between the two countries, great strides had been made with regard to the rehabilitation of the power generators in Zimbabwe. The US$40 million is already transferred to an offshore account in Botswana. The money will further be transferred directly to the suppliers of equipment required in the resuscitation of the old generators at Hwange in Zimbabwe. “The first unit will run one month earlier than anticipated. By December, about 40 MW will be made available to Namibia,” Shilamba said. The power agreement allows Namibia to import 150 megawatts for a period of five years from the Hwange plant that has a generation capacity of 480 megawatts. It was anticipated that the first 40 megawatts of the 150 megawatts to be received would be supplied to Namibia as soon as the first generator was rehabilitated by January 2008. Shilamba, who was in Harare two weeks ago to attend the SADC energy ministers and power utilities conference, said that given the work that has already been done in just two months Namibia would start receiving the agreed amount of power as early as December 2007. “This will be a great relief for our country,” Shilamba said. A technical team comprising of two persons from Nampower and two others from ZESA had arrived from Europe recently where they made arrangements for the shipping of equipment with manufacturers. A consultant from Laymeyer International has been appointed to coordinate the process of rehabilitation. According to Shilamba, Nampower has stationed two young professional Namibians at the Hwange power plant in order to gain experience. “We are happy that we are on track,” he added. Electricity from the Hwange Power Station would be routed to Namibia through South Africa until Nampower’s Caprivi Link Inter-connector is up and running. The two have an agreement that allows Namibia to source its power from Zimbabwe especially du-ring off-peak hours. While Eskom, Namibia’s main electricity supplier, has its surplus diminishing, and Zambia that feeds the Caprivi link faces problems, Shilamba says should the situation become unbearable, power can be sourced from other Southern African countries such as Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Besides, internal power sources such as the Van Eck, Ruacana Hydro and Paratus power stations are there to meet the demand should other sources fail. He assured that despite the challenges the country and region face as far as power supply is concerned, Namibia will never be plunged into darkness. Nampower has a 15-year-agreement with Eskom for the supply of electricity. While the South African utility has been plagued by huge demand locally, Shilamba says Eskom will continue to honour its commitment. It continues to supply Namibia with at least 50 percent of its power needs. Regional countries, Namibia included, continue to try and avoid looming power blackouts amid revelations by major regional suppliers such as Eskom that it has run out of surplus electricity to export due to growing demand for power in South Africa itself. Eskom had previously said that it could plug off its supply grid to Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe on a 24-hour notice. Frequent breakdowns at Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear power plant in the Western Cape province has worsened South Africa’s power supply situation. Zambia, from which Namibia has in the past been importing extra electricity, announced in April that it was facing a serious power deficit. Zambia generates about 1 600 MW and needs to increase its capacity to about 4 500 MW by 2010. A boom in the economy propelled by a sharp rise in the country’s copper industry has resulted in an increased demand for electricity in Zambia. Analysts warn that the situation could be worse for Namibia, which has recently become the centre of attraction for investors, especially in the uranium and diamond mining sectors. Miners warn that a shaky electricity supply situation could stifle investment in Namibia’s mining sector. Namibia last month licensed a N$1 billion wind energy electricity generation project, which is seen as a stopgap measure for the country’s energy woes.