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Environmentalists slam Escom on silted reservoirs

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Environment activists have criticised Escom for trying to make the public a scapegoat to the body’s failure to manage electricity generation systems in the country.

Their criticism comes on the back of revelations that while the low water levels in the Shire River is singled out as the most important problem for the electricity crisis the country is experiencing at the moment, the situation may not have been this grave had Escom managed the water reservoirs in its power stations.

It emerges that the reservoirs themselves have been silted up, complicating the power generation process.

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Nkula, Tedzani and Kapichira power stations initially had fully operational water reservoirs which have eventually been silted up and have reduced their water holding capacity.

Escom has blamed the siltation on poor land management and environmental degradation upland. This, it says, results in wash-aways down into the Shire River and into the reservoirs.

But environmentalists believe Escom is trying to find someone to blame now that there is a crisis.

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Godfrey Mfiti, Director of Institute of Sustainable Development, said Escom should not blame the communities for the siltation because the blackouts have exposed their weakness.

“This goes back to the issue of Escom management. It mostly comprises politicians who don’t care about the importance of maintaining equipment and important features like water reservoir ponds.

“All the management might have been doing is to impress the board. Escom was supposed to take an initiative to look after these water reservoirs and involve the communities in question in sustainable land management practices. This is their responsibility,” he said.

On the other hand, Executive Director for Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (Cepa) William Chadza said Escom should have made an effort to engage communities on the use of sustainable land management practices.

“Escom is getting something from the ecosystem and this means they have to make a contribution towards management. It appears Escom has been relaxed on this,” he said.

Sources at Escom said the ponds have not been dredged and that if these reservoirs were fully operational, it would have eased the crisis to some extent.

Public relations manager for Escom, Kitty Chingota confirmed that Nkula, Tedzani and Kapichira power generating stations’ water reservoir ponds are silted up.

“The causes are poor land management and environmental degradation that results in wash-aways down the Shire River,” she said.

Chingota also acknowledged that in the current situation of acute water shortage for power generation, reservoir capacity helps with the stable operation of the power system by reducing system loading variations.

“You also need to know that even when rains start; it takes months for the Lake Malawi level to rise and for the Shire flows to normalise. This is the time when the reservoir capacity is expected to contribute significantly to meeting peak periods demand,” she said.

Chingota however explained that the current Shire River inflow into power station reservoirs is too low such that the system loading and demand profile does not provide any space even to fill the available storage capacity.

“To fill the available reservoir capacity we have to do extra load shedding since there is no extra water for filling the reservoirs at any time of the day or week.

“Reservoirs work in situations where during a certain period of time in a day demand is lower than generation capacity, providing excess water which can be kept by the storage facility, like the pond, the stored water to be released to run idle installed generation capacity when demand requires more power generation,” Chingota said.

She added that at the moment, with the flow so low, the demand is always exceeding available generation capacity, at a particular inflow, all the time.

Escom says it is in the process of recovering a 2,600,000 cubic meters active storage reservoir at Nkula power station using new dredging equipment worth K2.8 billion courtesy of a Japanese Government grant.

The operational costs for all the reservoir ponds are in the range of K50 million per month.

Chingota said procurement of capital dredging services to recover Tedzani power station reservoir is in progress and dredging will start as soon as these services are procured.

For Kapichira power station, new dredging equipment is being procured and supplied under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact project and is expected to be in operation by March 2018.

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