JIMMY CHIBUYE, Choma
AFTER 14 years of unsuccessful attempts, the construction of Zambia’s third mega hydro-electricity plant in Chikankata district, Southern Province, has finally started.
The project will add 750 Megawatts (MW) of electricity to the national grid. The power plant called Kafue Gorge Lower is being built by a Chinese company, Sino-Hydro Corporation, at a cost of over US$2 billion. About 15 percent of the work has already been done.
The project is being funded by China Export and Import Bank (China EXIM) and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC).
Government is providing the necessary guarantees for the loans that Zesco requires for the project.
The building of the power plant should have started in 2004 but has delayed because of institutional paralysis caused by fear to act in the wake of what President Lungu called “baseless allegations”.
“Since 2004, this project has always been on and off until we made that bold decision in 2015 to launch it as Zambia’s first major investment in power in more than 50 years,” President Lungu said after inspecting the project and witnessing the official diversion of the Kafue River last week.
The diversion of the River paves way for the construction of the dam for the 750 MW hydropower plant.
The ground-breaking ceremony for the project was on November 28, 2015 and the contractor started work on January 15, 2016 and it will be completed in 2020.
The successful completion of the power plant will add 750MW to the over 2,000 MW locally produced power.
Government in the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP), states that it will promote infrastructure development to enhance the supply of electricity for economic development.
The idea is to expand and improve electricity generation, transmission and distribution, as well as encourage the development of small and mini hydro-power stations.
The country’s failure to expand its electricity generation capacity to meet the needs of the growing population resulted in unprecedented levels of electricity supply rationing to all consumers, especially in 2015.
Demand for electricity stood at 1,949 MW although the sector was only able to generate 1,281 MW.
This situation, according to the 7NDP, was largely as a result of inadequate and delayed investments in generation and transmission infrastructure and the failure to diversify energy generation sources over the last 30 years.
This was further compounded by inadequate incentives to attract investment in the sector.
The deficit was exacerbated by the effects of climate change, in particular low rainfall, given that Zambia has been highly dependent on hydro power despite the envisaged growth of other sources of energy to about 15 percent by 2030.
To increase power supply in Zambia, there is need to promote investment in hydro, nuclear, geothermal, wind and solar energy generation, the 7NDP notes.
The current projections indicate that growth in demand will increase between 150 MW and 200 MW per annum.
The peak demand for electricity in the country is likely to be 3,000 MW by 2021 and is expected to increase to over 3,525 MW in 2030.
As at 2016, Zambia’s installed capacity stood at 2,742 MW, of which 97 percent was from hydro and three percent from other sources.
President Lungu-flanked by Chinese Ambassador to Zambia Yang Youming-said the Kafue Gorge Lower is one of the many interventions his administration has put in place to end power deficits that have adversely affected the country.
The head of State believes construction of power plants on the Kafue River will maintain the generation capacity to a large extent, even in years of low rainfall.
The reason is that the same water will be used at three power stations, namely Itezhi Tezhi, Kafue Gorge Upper and Kafue Gorge Lower.
President Lungu also said Government is set to develop more hydro-power plants and fast-track long delayed projects such as the Kafue Gorge Lower.
In his parliamentary address in 2015, President Lungu said Government is determined to rapidly transform Zambia from a power deficit country to surplus producer.
The construction of two hydro-power plants within a space of two year – Itezhi Tezhi (120 MW) and now the Kafue Gorge Lower (750 MW) – attests to this.
Zambia is aspiring to become a hub of power supply in sub-Saharan Africa by 202, and to realise this goal, the country needs to invest more in power generation.
“We can only increase power generation by 2021 if there is investment in the electricity sector. I am glad to inform you that we are steadily moving towards such direction through investments such as this one,” Minister of Energy David Mabumba said.
Edify Hamukale, the Southern Province minister, also believes that the power deficit and rationing will be reduced through more investments in the electricity sector.
Dr Hamukale said: “We have endured power shortages and rationing not just in Southern Province but the entire country. With the coming of this massive project and many others, we expect to see an end to electricity shortages.”
Mr Yang said electricity is a driver of economic development and Zambia needs to invest more in such projects to continue her economic development path.
He said his government is determined to partner with Zambia in capital projects that will contribute to economic development.
“I am happy to say that at completion, this project will provide electricity even to the local people around the power plant,” Mr Yang said.
He said the contractor Sino-Hydro pays, attention to quality and protection of the environment in their area of operation.
Over 4,000 people are expected to be employed after the project is completed, but currently over 2,500 Zambians and 519 Chinese have been engaged in various sections.
Senior Chieftainess Nkomeshya is hopeful that when the project is completed, chiefdoms that gave away part of their land for the development of the power plant will be given priority in terms of power connection.
Chiefdoms of Nkomeshya, Naluwama and Sikongo gave away over 11,800 hectares to Zesco to construct the new hydro-electricity plant.
The project actually comes with spill over benefits to three chiefdoms.
Under the project, Zesco will construct dams, provide power supply extensions to schools and selected areas and drill boreholes in the three chiefdoms as part of its corporate social responsibility programme.
Further, Sino-Hydro will construct a boarding secondary and primary school as well as a health centre that will cater for the surrounding communities.
The contractor has also built a hydro-power technology skills training school that will be handed over to Kafue Gorge Lower as a donation to allow for continued training of people in hydro-power operations.