PATSON PHIRI, Lusaka
ZAMBIA and Mozambique have set eyes on the planned construction of a 1,200 Mega Watts (MW) joint coal-fired power plant to bolster electricity supply and promote energy integration through power-sharing.
The plan binds into an energy policy of the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc that has been coursed to erase tribulations of long spells of what has been infamously referred to as load shedding.
Zambia and Mozambique plan to construct the power plant in the coal-rich Tete Province which shares wide borders with the Eastern Province of Zambia.
Tete Province is reported to host approximately 6.7 billion tonnes of unexplored coal of which three billion tonnes represent sub-economic or economic grades.
The province is regarded as the largest undiscovered coal region in the world and it is estimated that Tete could be producing 25 percent of the worldâ€™s coking coal by 2025.
During talks with Mozambican Minister of Energy and Minerals Pedro Couto in Lusaka last Wednesday, President Lungu said negotiations for the project will be concluded around July or August this year.
The President was speaking when Mr Couto visited him at State House for talks on the project.
Zambia and Mozambique enjoy strong bilateral relations, having pioneered the waiver of visa entry requirements for citizens in 2005 when countries remained rigid in facilitating the free movement of goods and people.
The two governments signed a memorandum of understanding in March 2016 for the construction of a power plant as part of efforts to halt load shedding and move with economic stability into the next decade.
In the next phase of talks, President Lungu said he is expected to meet with Mozambican President Fillipe Nyusi for final plans. The project will be financed by the African Development Bank and Japan.
The initiatives for joint power plants and power sharing sit within the SADC Protocol on Energy signed in 1996 by Heads of State and Government to promote the harmonious development of national energy policies and matters of common interest for the balanced and equitable development of energy.
Guided by the principles of using energy to support economic growth and development, alleviate poverty and promote self reliance amongst member states, the protocol has defined institutional mechanisms and financial provisions for implementing energy-centered programmes.
Through the protocol, the processes of energy sharing and co-operating with non-SADC states and organisations are clearly defined.
The government of Mozambique has in the recent years made efforts to change the face of Tete Province whose infrastructure was severely ravaged by years of civil war.
The Mozambican government has already undertaken a US$375 million refurbishment of the 600 kilometres of rail between Moatize and Beira where it connects with Mchinji Railway Line that runs into Chipata in the Eastern Province.
Mozambique is also constructing a deep-water international port facility in Beira. In addition to this port, a coal terminal at Chinde, north of Beira, has been constructed by coal producers.
The facility will have a 20 million tonne terminal and whose opening has coincided with the beginning of production at the Zambeze Project, owned by Rino Tinto.
The link between Beira Port and Tete Province is being referred to as the â€˜Beira Corridorâ€™, along which there are now plans to upgrade all major rail freight routes so that they have the capacity to transport coal resources.
Tete Province also hosts the rich Cahora Bassa Dam that is responsible for generating the bulk of electricity for Mozambique and South Africa.
Tete has a long rich history with natives as early as 1859 excavating for coal when historian Richard Thornton completed his first study of the occurrence of coal.
In his report from the trip, Mr Thornton wrote that the coal showed no tendency to cake; was free-burning; contained very little sulphur or iron although a large proportion of ash along with a small amount of gaseous matter existed.
The Tete Coal project will be Zambiaâ€™s second major coal power plant after the 2 x 150 MW power plant in Maamba in Southern Province.
Zambia has been hit by electricity shortages for over a decade due to lack of investment in generation and expansion while industrial activity and the countryâ€™s population expanded by a yearly average of 10 percent.
Power deficit is now estimated at 34 percent of the gross demand even though only 22 percent of the countryâ€™s population has access to the commodity.
PATSON PHIRI, Lusaka