Message Lun 27 Fév 2017 11:15

Maamba rekindles energy sector

FIFTY years ago, it was difficult to comprehend that the small village of Maamba in the southern part of Zambia would play a pivotal role in the energy revolution of the country.
The discovery of coal deposits set in motion events that have placed Maamba at the pinnacle of engineering the exploration and exploitation of thermal energy as an alternative reliable energy source for Zambia.
Incorporated as a limited company in 1971 under the ownership of Government through the Zambia Industrial and Mining Corporation (ZIMCO), Maamba Collieries become the largest coal mining company in the country with an open cast mine in Sinazongwe District about 352 kilometres from Lusaka.
After many years of operation, production of about 800,000 tonnes of low grade coal significantly reduced before the company shut down and over 700 workers were laid off exacerbating poverty levels in the district.
From time immemorial, Zambia has been dependent on hydro power electricity to drive her economic activities.
Sadly, dry spells across the country resulted in low water levels in rivers and dams that are needed for the generation of hydro electricity.
Consequently, Zambia faced a daunting energy crisis with a power deficit of around 700 megawatts (MW) due to the drought conditions.
Massive nationwide load shedding extending up to eight, and in some cases 12 hours per day, were inevitable.
Without wasting time, Government devised a strategy to revive Maamba Collieries to establish a thermal power plant that could use the vast coal stockpile and large deposits of low grade coal to provide the much needed energy to the country.
Some viewed the plan as utopia. They argued that Zambia, being a third world country which according to the 2016 World Finance estimates was placed at GDP US$25 billion, with per capita of US$1,625 could not accomplish the idea.
Nava Bharat of Singapore, a subsidiary of Nava Bharat Ventures, an Indian listed business conglomerate, was selected to collaborate with the state owned ZCCM Investment Holdings (ZCCM IH), which has a stake of 35 per cent, to set up Zambia’s first thermal power plant.
The ambitious power project which started in 2011 saw investments of about US$843 million galvanised from equity partners who contributed US$253 million while US$590 million was sourced from a consortium of international and local commercial banks and development financial institutions.
The project involved reviving the closed coal mine and establishing a coal handling and processing plant which ultimately cleaned up the environmental mess left by stockpiles of coal from yesteryears.
The other part comprised of setting up a 300 MW coal fired power plant composed of two 150 MW units, along with a 48 kilometre, 330 kV transmission line and a 21 kilometre water pipeline and pump house.
SEPCO, a Chinese electric power construction company that designs and builds power generating plants, substations and transmission lines was appointed in 2011 and by July 2016, the project was completed.
President Edgar Lungu, who commissioned the first unit that was producing 150 MW, underscored his administration’s desire to advance the social and economic development of the country especially for Maamba itself.
Maamba Collieries Chief Executive Officer Venkat Shankar, whose firm manages the power plant, thinks the plant is achieving the aim of bridging the power shortfall facing the country.
Mr Shankar explained that the power plant is already feeding the national electricity grid with 150 MW from one unit while the other unit is also ready to transmit a further 150 MW whenever ZESCO completes upgrading the 48 kilometre transmission line from Maamba to Muzuma power station.
“Despite being ready to transmit the 300 MW, there has been constraint on the part of ZESCO. We‘ve being advised that the full load may not be exported from Maamba until such time that some upgrade works and some grid stability related activities are completed by ZESCO, ” explained Mr Shankar.
The good news is that large coal deposits have been discovered that will ensure viability and sustainability of the project for more than 80 years.
“To sustain the power plant, which needs a feed of 1.7 million tonnes per annum, we have opened pits which will ensure continuity for several years to come,” Maamba Mine Manager Scott Phiri said.
Sinazongwe District Commissioner Protacial Mulenga is thrilled that the country’s first ever thermal power plant is in his cosmopolitan district and that it is changing the face of the area.
Mr Mulenga said when compared with other districts in Southern Province, Sinazongwe is experiencing a boom in business.
He brags that over 40 trucks crisscross the district ferrying tonnes of coal to Ndola, Solwezi and Kalumbila while the hospitality and trade industries have shown remarkable growth.
Area Councillor for Maamba Ward Zakaria Chikite is elated that many local people have found jobs at the power plant but wants the benefits of the increased power generation and supply to the national grid to trickle down to the local communities and villages.
In the eyes of Yvonne Maliko, a housewife in Maamba Township, whose husband found a job at the power plant, the increased earnings have improved the family’s livelihood and household economy.
“My husband used to get low wages but when he got a job at the plant, he now gets a higher salary which has improved our standards of living,” she said.
The commencement of the transmission of 150 MW into the national grid, out of the 300 MW that power station is able to generate, has not only helped to address the problem of load shedding.
In the long run, the station will also boost industrial activities.
The critics might as well just watch in silence, knowing too well that the Government is determined to improve the country’s social and economic standing.-ZANIS.