HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe is considering whether or not to decommission six generation units at the 750 MW Hwange thermal power station, which is producing 50 MW due to recurrent breakdowns of its ageing plants, a minister said on Wednesday.
The southern African country is battling power shortages, which miners and industrialists say are a threat to the recovery of an economy that is emerging from a decade of collapse.
Industry and Commerce Minister Welshman Ncube said the government had continued to give money to state power utility ZESA to fix problems at Hwange, but generation remained low.
“As of the end of last week, it (Hwange) was delivering 50 MW, which basically means that it’s not in play at the moment,” Ncube told a group of business leaders in Harare.
ZESA’s chief executive Ben Rafemoyo told Reuters last week that two out of six units at Hwange were already back in operation and that a third was due to start production last week Wednesday.
Ncube mocked ZESA officials for misrepresenting the plant’s problems to the government, saying that at one time they blamed coal shortages but now said the equipment at the power plant was too old to operate at full capacity.
All the six units at Hwange can only operate at 40 percent of their design capacity, Ncube said, giving a maximum output of 300 MW.
Zimbabwe has a peak electricity demand of 2,000 MW but has had to rely on the 750 MW Kariba hydro plant, which is operating at full capacity, and imports to complement its supplies.
Ncube said a team of cabinet ministers had now been tasked to come up with a report on the state of the equipment at Hwange and make recommendations whether to continue with generation.
“Regrettably, over the last 12 months, the problems have always been communicated to us differently,” he said.
“The government has now had to say let us get a full report on all the six units ... then we can say do we really need to spend more money on them (units) or decommission them.”
Zimbabwe has in recent weeks endured increased enforced power cuts in a bid to match supply with demand.
To guarantee adequate electricity, Zimbabwe has long planned to add two more 300 MW generating units at Hwange and expand its Kariba hydro power plant with two generators, adding 150 MW each by 2012 at a total cost of $800 million.
Ncube said the government should now seriously look at the Kariba option to increasing power supplies.