NKOLE MULAMBIA, Mpongwe
ALICE Chabinga, a 25-year-old business-woman, has been managing a salon in Mwinuna chiefdom of Mpongwe district, Copperbelt
Province, for over two years using solar power and a generator.
But this will be a thing of the past now that the Rural Electrification Authority (REA) has connected the chiefdom to the national power grid.
The chiefdom was the only one of the six which had no power in the district, and engaging in salon business without electricity had been a major challenge for Ms Chabinga.
“I am extremely happy and over-excited with what Government has done in bringing electricity to our chiefdom. Things will be a lot easier now especially in ensuring that our clients’ hair (using hairdryers) is dried to their satisfaction,” she said.
Ms Chabinga is optimistic that her business is poised for steady growth and it is already attracting more people from five to 10 per day. Her income will also double from K50 to 100 per day.
She thanked Government for implementing a number of developmental projects in the area such as installation of electricity in schools and health facilities.
Recently REA commissioned the grid extension project in the chiefdom at a cost of K11.5 million.
The project involved construction of 18.6 kilometres of 11 kilovolt (KV) overhead lines, tapping from the existing 11KV line at the Airtel communication tower as phase one.
The power line was meant to supply electricity to Ipumbu Rural Health Centre, Lukanga Primary School and to the only market in the chiefdom.
Phase two involved construction of a further 19km of 11KV overhead lines from the terminal of phase one at Lukangala Primary School to Chief Mwinuna’s palace.
The target for phase two was to supply electricity to Chief Mwinuna‘s palace, Chisanga Primary School, Mwinuna Rural Health centre, Mikata Primary School and Munkupu trading centre.
This year, Government has allocated K118 million to connect a number of rural growth centres across the country out of which K11.5 million was invested in Mpongwe’s Mwinuna project to connect it to the national grid.
Following the development, Minister of Energy David Mabumba has urged Mpongwe residents to use electricity productively and be able to sustain themselves.
“We want to see local people set up small-scale enterprises by taking advantage of business opportunities that come with electricity such as hammermills, welding, carpentry, poultry, salons and barbershops,” he said.
Mr Mabumba assured other rural communities that Government will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that it creates an enabling environment for socio-economic development for them.
Government has created the rural electrification programme to increase access to electricity from the current 4.4 percent to 51 percent by 2030.
It is through this programme that Government is working to ensure that all rural schools, rural health centres, chiefs’ palaces, local courts, trading places, households and other facilities in rural areas are either connected to the national electricity grid or renewable sources of energy.
Mr Mabumba, however, said one of Government’s developmental challenges is increasing access to modern forms of energy, especially for those in the rural areas.
This is because rural electrification in developing countries is a mammoth social programme whose investment cost is astonishingly huge.
In Zambia, the rural master plan has pegged the annual investment cost of rural electrification at US$50 million per year to effectively implement all the projects that have been identified until 2030.
With only about 23 percent of the Zambian population having access to electricity, Mr Mabumbu said the situation is worse in rural areas where access to electricity is only 4.4 percent in terms of grid connections.
This means that the majority of the population remains in the ‘dark’ despite the country having so much potential with regard to hydro-power generation capacity.
But REA aims to increase access to electricity in rural areas by developing electricity infrastructure using appropriate technologies.
It is for this reason that REA chief executive officer Geoffrey Musonda said through the available technologies such as solar, home systems, solar mini-grids, mini-hydro power stations and grid extension projects, the authority has continued to electrify rural areas in Zambia so that more citizens can have access to electricity and better quality of life.
Mr Musonda said the authority has implemented about 160 grid extension projects, 421 solar home systems projects and one solar mini-grid since its commencement in 2004.
Currently, it is undertaking construction of two solar mini-grids in Lunga district and Chunga areas in the Kafue National Park.
This is besides other grid extensions and substation projects spread across the country.
He said the authority is geared to meet the challenge of ensuring that the vision of Government to electrify all rural areas is translated into concrete and tangible benefits.
Chief Mwinuna of the Lima people commended Government for connecting the chiefdom to the national power grid, saying for a long time, he felt left out from developmental projects taking place in the country.
Similarly, Mpongwe district commissioner Keith Maila extolled REA for commissioning the Mwinuna grid extension project.
“Mpongwe district being the breadbasket of the province, I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt that it will help boost growth of agricultural products,” Mr Maila said.
Besides hydro power, the country has other potential sources of energy such as solar, biomass and wind energy that have remained largely unexploited for a long time.
Government is therefore pursuing policies, plans and strategies to address the challenges that are prevailing in the electricity sub-sector.