FOR the first time in many years Zimbabwe recorded a power surplus resulting in temporary suspension of load shedding during some days in the past few weeks. Ministry of Energy and Power Development and power utility Zesa Holdings officials told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Energy and Power Development that shortages of coal were, however, presenting the biggest stumbling block to improved power generation.
Zimbabwe Power Company managing director Engineer Noah Gwariro said electricity production was averaging 1 300MW which was being topped up with imports from Mozambique's HCB, which at most amounted to 350MW.
"Total supply is 1 553MW and load forecast is 1 515MW, we actually have a surplus and are not load shedding," he said.
Mr Gwariro said the surplus situation had been recorded on a number of days in the past few weeks.
The bulk of the power at 750MW was coming from Kariba, which is said to be the most stable power stations with Hwange producing over 500MW while the remainder is coming from the functional small thermals.
The surplus was also partially due to success being registered on the demand side management as well as power station rehabilitation programmes.
Available power has in the past fluctuated between 1 000MW and 1 200MW.
Zimbabweans have had to contend with load shedding over the past decade as the power utility has struggled to meet high demand. The shortage affected economic revival efforts especially at a time when the economy was in recovery mode in the past three years.
Energy and Power Development Permanent Secretary Mr Patson Mbiriri said while the electricity situation was improving, demand was somehow going down with one reason for the decrease being declining capacity utilisation in industry.
Mr Mbiriri said a major stumbling block to improved power generation was shortage of coal, despite Zimbabwe having some of the largest coal deposits on the African continent.
"Zimbabwe Power Company is receiving inadequate supplies of coal. We would be producing a bit more of electricity if ZPC had more coal," he said.
"It is like having your feet in the water and you are dying of thirst at the same time you are unable to help yourself with the water that your feet are in. It sounds strange but it is fact."
ZPC, which is the power generation arm of Zesa Holdings, is responsible for all the State-owned power stations in the country.
The company once applied to mine coal and was granted concessions, which were later repossessed due to failure to commence operations.
Cabinet in 2010 agreed that the concessions should be returned to the company but the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, which is responsible for granting the concessions, is yet to do so.
This prompted acting committee chairperson, former Energy Minister Elias Mudzuri to lambast the Government for contradicting itself.
"It is the Government, which has said 'get the concessions back' but it is the same Government that is not giving you the concessions," he said.
Mr Mbiriri, however , said the Ministry of Mines had since indicated that a number of companies had been issued special grants to mine coal in the Hwange area, which would result in supplies improving.
But over a year down the line, the situation has not improved as only two other small coal mining companies besides the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange listed Hwange Colliery Company Limited had commenced operations.
"ZPC is the biggest client for all the three companies," said Mr Mbiriri adding that "what is evident is that the coal mining companies need recapitalisation."
Mr Mbiriri reiterated that Zesa Holdings had cleared its US$100 million debt with regional power utilities.
"I can now proudly receive calls from Cabbora Bassa (HCB of Mozambique)," he joked, adding that it was however critical that the utility guards against the import bill accumulating again.
Mr Mbiriri said additional locally generated power was expected to be added to the grid in the next three years.