Editor's Comment

Relief on electricity tariffs welcome

GOVERNMENT should be commended for taking a bold and costly step to subsidise imported electricity.
At a time that Government is constrained in terms of resources due to the many competing needs and debt bill, it is highly courageous to take such a step, which requires digging deeper into its treasury.
The action taken by Government is evidence that despite its financial burden, it is also alive to the fact that citizens are equally going through a challenging period economically. They therefore deserve some form of relief.
Owing to the worsening load shedding, which now goes up to 10 hours from the initial four in June, President Edgar Lungu recently directed Minister of Energy Mathew Nkhuwa to immediately start importation of power to cushion the situation.
Importation of 300 megawatts from Eskom of South Africa at US$20.5 million per month is expected to start within two weeks.
Importation of power is expected to reduce load shedding to six hours from the current 10.
At the time the proposal to import power from South Africa was floated about a month ago, the power utility company announced that consumers would be required to pay more because of the importation costs.
It is, however, a sigh of relief for consumers that Government will not increase electricity tariffs but instead will bite the bullet by shouldering the importation costs itself.
“For now, the old tariffs will remain, the consumer has been let off the hook,” Mr Nkhuwa said.
As rightly noted by various stakeholders, many Zambians are already economically stressed due to the power deficit and high cost of living among other factors.
From the time load shedding took effect, it has affected productivity in various spheres of life.
Businesses in particular have suffered great loss due to lack of energy to drive productivity.
Small businesses like salons, welding workshops, barber shops, butcheries and retail shops have been brought to their knees due to increased load shedding.
While at the beginning of load shedding businesses and individuals could find ways of maximising the few hours of power supply, it is now impossible to do so.
This is because power supply is cut at 06:00 and reinstalled at 20:00 hours. This means there is no business or productivity to talk about.
Those who have tried to invest in generators have a depressing story of the unsustainability of this source of energy due to high fuel costs.
Disposable income among many citizens has dwindled. For many, what remains now is how to put food on the table.
To ask people in such a position to pay more for electricity is as good as excluding them from supply.
It means only a few privileged individuals would afford to access electricity at higher tariffs.
This therefore defeats the whole purpose for importing power which is to cushion load shedding at family, organisation and national levels.
Entrepreneurs are looking forward to the importation of power to revive their businesses, most of which are in ‘comatose’.
Big businesses, too, are looking forward to boosting productivity, which has drastically reduced leading to loss of jobs in some instances.
If the cost of power is increased, it means the cost of production also goes up making it difficult for companies to thrive.
The relief Government has provided by subsidising electricity importation, though short-term, is necessary to prevent businesses and the economy from collapsing completely.
The supply of subsidised power is also expected to help jump-start businesses on ‘life support’.
It is, however, worth noting that while the well-intended effort by Government to offer relief to its citizens through power subsidies is appreciated, the truth is that it is not sustainable over a long period.
It is therefore inevitable to start investing in other sources of energy to provide long-term solutions.
It is evident now that the country can no longer depend on hydropower as the only source of energy owing to climate change.
In 2015 to 2016 the country went through the same challenge of power deficit due to drought. This time it has only gotten worse.
This is a signal that if decisive action is not taken now to invest in solar plants and other sources of energy, the nation will one day wake up to a countrywide blackout.
This is not very far from where the country stands today. Let those charged with responsibility to manage power generation rise to the challenge before the worst happens.

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