JACK ZIMBA, Itezhi Tezhi
WHEN engineers and planners set out to build a dam at Itezhi Tezhi to serve as a reservoir for Kafue Gorge power plant in the mid-1970s, they must have caught a glimpse of the current power deficit. And so they built the dam in such a way that one day it would house a power station to generate electricity.
Four decades later, their foresightedness has paid off. The Itezhi Tezhi power station, with capacity to generate 120 mega-watts (WM), was commissioned last week by President Lungu.
For President Lungu, the commissioning of the power project was a fulfilment of the promise he made during his address to Parliament in September last year, that Itezhi Tezhi would come on grid within the first quarter of 2016, as one of the short-term measures to mitigate the power shortage.
â€œThis occasion marks a positive step in ensuring reliability and quality in power supply in our country, particularly Central Province,â€ President Lungu said at a ceremony to commission the project.
The dam itself is a legacy of former President Kenneth Kaunda, and his name still gets mentioned with admiration in this small town, which lies on the fringes of Central Province.
President Lungu, himself, did not overlook the countryâ€™s forefathers for their vision.
â€œWe should give credit to some of our forefathers for the foresight and leadership which had vision for the futureâ€¦and we should build on their vision,â€ he said.
The need to develop a power station at Itezhi Tezhi arose in 2000, when the country started suffering an electricity deficit, resulting in load shedding in many parts of the country and eventually affecting the economy.
This scenario led, in 2007, to the incorporation of a company called Itezhi Tezhi Power Corporation Limited to build and operate a power station at the dam.
Itezhi Tezhi Power Corporation Limited is a joint venture between Zesco Limited and Indiaâ€™s giant Tata Company, through its subsidiary Tata Power.
The two companies have a 50/50 shareholding in the corporation, which is under a 25-year concession agreement.
The project is touted as a shining example of public private partnership investment and it is the first of such investment in the energy sector.
The power plant has also been hailed as a true symbol of corporation among nations, as it brought together three countries â€“ China, India and Zambia.
In 2011, Itezhi Tezhi Power Corporation contracted Chinaâ€™s Sino Hydro to construct the power station. Inevitably, one can see a lot of technology from both Asian giants.
The project cost US$245 million to complete, with 30 percent of the money coming from the two shareholders, while the rest was sourced through loans obtained from a consortium of lending institutions, including the Development Bank of Southern Africa and African Development Bank.
But the project was not without challenges.
â€œOver the years, the development of the project faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles which elsewhere in the world would have been sufficient to bring the project to an end,â€ said Tata Africa Region president Sunil Kapul.
And Zesco managing director Victor Mundende described the new plant as a â€œmilestoneâ€ which will assist the power utility to reduce on power shortages, especially in North-Western Province.
According to Mr Mundende, North-Western Province will be connected to the power station via Mumbwa.
It is also expected that the opening of the power station will boost tourism in Itezhi Tezhi, which shares the vast Kafue National Park and Kafue Flats, a large swampland that is home to over 400 species of birds.
Engineers had to take into consideration the ecosystem when designing and constructing the dam and power station. It is no wonder that many water birds can be seen near the power plant. The majestic fish eagle, the nationâ€™s symbol, also patrols the waters below, occasionally swooping down to pick a meal.
The Kafue Flats area supports more than 450 species of threatened, endangered and migratory bird species and the area has been designated an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area by Birdlife International.
The flats are home to large concentrations of resident and migratory water birds.
The flats also host a high diversity and density of breeding raptors, particularly vultures.
The opening, of the power station is also expected to boost agriculture in the area, and the President urged farmers to diversify their farming, from growing traditional crops such as cotton and maize, to growing wheat.
Itezhi Tezhi is also thought to possess rich deposits of minerals, with a potential to attract large-scale mining.
Apart from the obvious benefit of improved access to electricity for the small population in Itezhi Tezhi, the residents in the district will also benefit through a social fund that will be injecting 0.5 percent of the power companyâ€™s annual profits into community projects such as schools and health facilities.
There is also a plan to expand water reticulation within the district, as well as improving health care for the residents.
Itezhi Tezhi, which remained under-developed for many years, is now poised for development, more so with the tarring of the 120-kilometre road that links the district to Mumbwa, which has been in a deplorable state. Works are currently being undertaken on the road.
â€œIâ€™m convinced that with a good road and availability of stable electricity supply, this district will experience equitable levels of development from now onwards,â€ Mr Lungu said. The power station will for now operate at 50 percent capacity due to low water levels in the dam, although there is a good sign of abundant water with the continued rainfall.
And the dam will continue serving its purpose as a reservoir for Kafue Gorge power station over 400 kilometres downriver, as well as for the vast sugar plantations in Mazabuka.
According to Martin Sinjala, an engineer working on the project, the new power station will not affect activities downriver, including generation of power at Kafue Gorge.
JACK ZIMBA, Itezhi Tezhi