Malawi’s President, Peter Mutharika has been convinced by the Electricity Generating and supplying Companies EGENCO and ESCOM that the current power outages will be dealt with shortly.
This transpired earlier on Wednesday, when President Mutharika paid a surprise visit to ESCOM’s head offices in the commercial capital, Blantyre.
Business along the Victoria Avenue was brought to a standstill by the Malawi leader’s arrival.
According to managers of the two companies, measures are being implemented to rectify the problem, which the public and captains of industry have repeatedly expressed worry and anger over the persistent electricity blackouts.
The long hours without electricity, are affecting productivity in the manufacturing sector, and there continuous calls for the government to immediately identify solutions to the current challenges.
Though EGENCO has expressed interest in venturing into solar power, the plans are yet to be materialised.
Speaking after holding talks with EGENCO and ESCOM management, President Mutharika acknowledged the negative impact power outages are having, saying the government is giving the matter the attention it deserves.
Meanwhile, ESCOM revealed that power outages will continue until December this year as they are working on purchasing diesel generators to improve the situation.
Board Chairperson for the Parastatal Perks Ligoya told Capital FM that diesel generators may also come with high electricity tariffs upon the completion of the exercise.
“We have already signed agreements for 70 megawatts of power which may take close to a year for Malawians to use them.
As for the generators, by December about 30 generators to arrive and this will ease the power cuts that the country is experiencing,” Ligoya said.
Almost every year, Malawi experiences power cuts which arise due to the drop in levels of water in Lake Malawi mainly due to climate changes.
The level in the lake in turn affects the levels in Shire River which is EGENCO’s main source of power generation.
Amid pressure from Malawians, the country’s electricity generating and supplying companies are promising to eradicate blackouts by early next year.
Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) and Electricity Generation Company (EGENCO) officials, made the remarks during a civil society and media tour of their power stations in the southern region.
The public and Civil Society Organisations have been piling pressure on ESCOM and the EGENCO to improve the electricity provisions in the country.
They have been questioning why there are continued blackouts despite the unbundling of ESCOM which meant to solve electricity challenges in the country.
The two bodies organised a tour to brief the CSOs and the Media on the current power situation.
Water levels in the Shire River which houses the country’s power stations have reduced, which according to the two parastatals, is affecting electricity generation and supply.
Tedzani power station for instance, is said to be producing less than 60 megawatts of electricity out of the required 92 megawatts due to the same factor.
The responsible authorities assure Malawians that all will be well by the start of January with or without rains in the country owing to the Diesel generators project which is expected to finish by December.
Patrick Kadewa who is the Acting Director of System and Market Operator for ESCOM says they will bring mechanisms that intend to save energy like the LED bulbs.
Representing the CSOs on the tour, National Coordinator for Forum for National Development indicated a reversal of the planned demonstrations against persistent blackouts.
Capital FM’s own observation during the tour revealed that, the government needs to take a step further to restore the depleted trees in communities around the areas to reduce siltation.
It was sad to see people walking freely with charcoal on their bicycles around Tedzani, Kapichira and other areas around the power stations.
Electricity is a key for social economic development of every country hence the need for it to be looked into with the urgency it deserves.
Blantyre residents are speaking out against ESCOMs’ proposed tariff hike, saying that the parastatal should only increase its tariffs when the power situation has been improved and stable.
Blackouts across the country have become the norm, despite their crippling effects on both businesses and households.
The tariff increase is said to be inevitable as EGENCO needs capital to hire Diesel generators from ESCOM to reduce power outages.
Speaking to Capital FM, residents in of the commercial capital indicated that the move is unjustifiable.
“Why should they hike tariffs as if they are giving us power when we need it?” one Chilobwe woman asked.
Another who is based in Ndirande Township said the move will have very negative impacts on a majority of Malawians.
“This will affect us badly; the hike should have only been made if we had more hours of powers and maybe two or three hours without it.
There is no point is raising tariffs as if we have electricity to even pay for, “she added.
Meanwhile, Associate Professor of Law at the Chancellor College Edge Kanyongolo disclosed to Capital FM that there is no constitutional provision on electricity supply that the public can use to make a legal complaint over the prevailing blackouts.
The Professor explains that the public can however use their right and freedom to assemble and hold demonstrations as a way of making the power supplier accountable.
In the same vein, human rights activist Billy Mayaya is planning on holding demonstrations on the blackouts that ESCOM customers are being subjected to.
Mayaya said the power outages are affecting various works in the country.
“The time has come for Malawians to rise up and be heard.
“We demand good services because this is not the first time that we have been subjected to this,” Mayaya said.
However that date or venue for the demonstrations is yet to be set.
Malawians continue to suggest that the government prioritize an alternative means of electricity generation, as one way of eradicating the persistent electricity problems.
People are of the view that the recurring power outages are contributing to economic woes in the country.
Electricity has not been consistent despite connected wires and paid up electricity bills.
News from those entrusted to generate and supply electricity for Malawi is always the same; low water tables, poor infrastructure, climate change.
Since 2016, the country has been undergoing massive load shedding due to insufficient generation and transmission capacity.
The impact of the water and electricity problems has affected the service delivery in various services.
According to a report, 60% of production is down due to the power problems.
Frequent power outages continue to claim lives of innocent Malawians, who could easily been saved if it wasn’t for power outages and generator failures.
Cases of people being trapped in elevators in the CDB are also on the increase.
Small and Medium Enterprises like barbershops and hair-salons, printing shops and internet cafes are all feeling the impact where electricity is concerned.
About 98% of Malawi’s electricity supply is generated from hydroelectric plants operated by the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM), but the supply cannot meet the demand.
Blantyre residents in the CBD told Capital FM that it is high time, that ESCOM and the Electricity Generation Company found alternatives because it seems that hydro power is doing the nation no good at all.
Environmentalist Godfrey Mfiti concurred with the residents in the commercial Capital.
Mfiti believes that the best way to rectify Malawi’s electricity challenge is to use solar power.
He suggests taking a leaf out of Rwanda’s book as climate conditions in the two countries are similar.
Rwanda has managed to utilise the power of the sun and generate enough electricity through solar power.
According to Chief Executive Officer of EGENCO, William Liabunya, they are already in the process of finding a suitable alternative to generate more power.
Liabunya disclosed that though there is a need to diversify power generation there is no way that the country can fully switch to solar because it is not only cheaper but it is a method the country has relied on for years.
The CEO further revealed that it will take the country over a year to install solar plants and ensure that they generating the much needed electricity.
Representatives of Malawi’s power supplier, ESCOM are continuing to urge the public to switch to LED bulbs in order to save energy.
This comes as efforts are continuing, to ease pressure for the company in supplying electricity, as demand for the service continues to grow.
The bulbs are said to consume power equivalent to MK1000 a year.
There was a near crisis in late 2016 and earlier this year when power blackouts became a frequent occurrence.
Some business people shut down their businesses after making numerous losses due to the power cuts.
On domestic levels, Malawians resorted to using charcoal as an alternative even though environmentalists have on numerous occasions expressed concern at the impact that burning charcoal is having on the environment.
This was attributed to low water levels in the Shire River, which raised questions on the corporation’s capacity to generate power.
According to information on ESCOM’s website, up to 22 Mega Watts had been saved by April this year, through free distribution of LED Bulbs.
20 more Mega Watts are expected to be saved through installation of the rest of the bulbs which are now being sold at a subsidized price.
Free distribution of the bulbs which started in December last year was completed on the 14th April, with a total of 500,000 of the 1.2million bulbs distributed.
ESCOM spent MK5 billion to procure about 1.2 million bulbs which officials say is lower than what would have been used to installl a new power plant.
ESCOM is currently selling the bulbs to customers.