Joint Parliamentary Committees continue with fact-finding on blackouts

The joint Parliamentary Committee, that was constituted to get to the bottom cause of the national power shutdowns, is continuing with its fact-finding mission by physically visiting hydro power stations at Nkula, Kapichira, Tedzani and at the diesel generation plant at Mapanga along Zomba Road.

The joint committee comprises natural resources & climate change; trade, industry & tourism; legal affairs and public appointments, which had earlier summoned heads of Electricity Supply Corporation (ESCOM); Energy Generation Company (EGENCO); Power Market Limited (PML); Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) and Ministry of Energy at Parliament last week.

Kapichira’s restoration project manager, Harry Msosa explaining progress of restoration

This also follows a hot press conference that Ministries of Energy and Information held last week that was also attended by chief executive officers of ESCOM, Kamkwamba Kumwenda; EGENCO’s William Liabunya and PML’s Rosemary Mkandawire — where Matola accused the previous administration of plunging the electricity utility companies into the current mess which has led the utility companies failing to provide adequate electricity.

The joint Parliamentary Committee first visited Kapichira Hydro Power Station in Chikwawa to assess impact of the damage caused by Cyclone Ana back in January and progress of restoring the 130 megawatts (MW) of power that has led to continued load shedding that last up to 10 hours a day with some parts of the country having no electricity at all.

Kapichira power station intact and waiting for supply of adequate water

The Committee was well assured by EGENCO management of their efforts to restore Kapichira Dam and were taken on tour of works being done of drenching the sand that the floods gathered so that they could divert flow of water to the intake to start the process of building a cofferdam

The cofferdam will serve two purposes — to allow EGENCO to partially fill the reservoir and resume generation of power and for neighbouring Shire Valley Transformation Programme (SVTP) to continue construction of its own intake of the Shire Valley irrigation project.

The MP’s were taken through the process of restoration by EGENCO’s project manager, Harry Msosa, who emphasized that it will be done in two phases; — to temporarily construct the cofferdam around mouth of the damaged fuse plug (an emergency spillway) and as soon as power generation is restored, to reconstruct the whole dam structure with an improved design.

Works in progress to drench out sand

He said this is under ‘Build Back Better’ for a resilient dam that should withstand the frequent floods the country is experiencing as a result of climate change and catchment area degradation.

Mapanga, which is supposed to be a power back-up when load shedding has been effected in Blantyre, also faces several challenges that six of its machines are not working while Nkula and Tedzani are fully operational.

Nkula, which was commissioned in the 60s, has undergone numerous rehabilitation but still needs to be restored with modern equipment that can enable it to generate more megawatts of power.

The visit at Nkula

All three hydro plants faces challenges of siltation because of upland’s environmental degradation and needs daily drenching exercises, which are costly.

One of the co-chairperson of the joint committee, Simplex Chithyola Banda said the committee was constituted after they had engaged the main players in the industry, ESCOM, EGENCO; PML; MERA and Ministry of Energy — saying they all were blaming each other for the national economic and social crisis.

Chithyola Banda, who is MP for Kasungu South, said while they are yet to compile a conclusive report, added that they are so far satisfied with efforts of the management of Kapichira, Nkula, Tedzani and other key energy sectors to restore normal and sustainable power supply.

He promised Malawians that after the physical visits, they will compile a report of their findings that is also to provide solutions for long-term sustainability and affordable power supply.

Of late, the country was plunged into further national power outage which was blamed on system failures, prompting the public to vent their anger on management of both ESCOM and EGENCO; on Ministry of Energy as well as the country’s leadership for failure to explain and solve the challenges.

At the press briefing in Lilongwe on Thursday, Energy Minister Matola singled out politicians that they force the utility companies to mis-procure and by-pass laws governing the operations of the companies.

Matola also said the previous government was wasting resources for the companies by using their assets such as vehicles to ferry party supporters to political rallies and drawing free fuel from other power producers hired by government such as Aggreko.

He said these malpractices led to the reduction of national power production from 444MW to 235MW — that has greatly affected all sectors of life including economy, health, education and agriculture.

Also last week, Consumers Association of Malawi (CAMA) advised President Lazarus Chakwera to take the continued countrywide power outages as a national economic and social crisis.

CAMA also asked the President to establish a Commission of Inquiry that will investigate the continued blackouts and poor workmanship at both ESCOM and EGENCO and to take up matters regarding poor electricity supply other than transferring such a responsibility to the Ministry of Energy.

CAMA’s Executive Director, John Kapito said the Ministry has “failed to find solutions over the past years, despite making empty promises” and added that the Commission of Inquiry should investigate and explain to Malawians why there are long and continued blackouts.

He also said the inquiry should “assess the management quality of ESCOM, who recently have proposed the closure of ESCOM and providing conflicting tariff proposals that have misled consumers”.

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