HARARE – Aspiring independent power producers (IPPs) this week lodged fresh bids to bring online a combined 40,6 megawatt (MW) in the Midlands and Goromonzi, just as the electricity crisis hit catastrophic levels.

The privately run CoreZim approached Zimbabwe Electricity Regulatory Authority (ZERA) seeking a nod to establish a 20,6MW solar power plant near Zhombe, while Chibani I sought approval to roll out a 20MW operation at Glen Avon Farm, Goromonzi.

But ahead of publication of their proposals yesterday, State-run power giant, Zesa Holdings warned the market to brace for difficult times, saying huge cuts in South African and Mozambican imports would drift the country back into an era of worse blackouts.

Eighteen hours of daily blackouts, as announced by Zesa on Tuesday last week would further hurt an industry that is scrounging for breath after being suffocated by a massive drop in output from the 1 050MW Kariba hydroelectric power plant and intermittent breakdowns at Hwange thermal power station.

Hwange is undergoing a $1,5 billion facelift but reliable transmission is not expected until 2021 when the project is completed.

CoreZim said if approved, its project will involve construction of a 22-kilometre transmission line to feed into the Zesa grid.

“The Zimbabwe Electricity Regulatory Authority (ZERA) has received an application from CoreZim (Private Limited) to construct, own operate and maintain a 20,6MW solar PV power plant at Sessombi 11 Farm, Kwekwe district, Midlands Province of Zimbabwe,” ZERA said in a statement Wednesday.

“The applicant intends selling the power generated to the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC). The project will also include the construction of approximately 22 kilometres of a transmission line from the proposed CoreZim solar power plant to Zhombe 33kv substation.”

On the Goromonzi proposal, ZERA said Chibani I’s Glen Avon plant would link up with ZETDC’s line at Dema near Chitungwiza from where ZETDC will purchase the power and transmit into the national grid.

The crisis is, while IPPs have responded to government’s strategy to improve power generation through a mix of big producers and upcoming small private players, approved projects have been taking long to kickstart operations.

In October, government said over 70 IPPs have been licenced in the past few years to invest in electricity generation, with an insignificant number starting operations.

Due to reasons ranging from an intensifying economic crisis and lack of capital, many of the projects are yet to be brought online, and there has been anxiety in government about the delays.

But time is running out for Zimbabwe, which is already at the vortex of a grinding power crisis predicted over a decade ago when government maintained its stronghold on the power sector.

Zesa Holdings’ fresh warning last week only added to growing anxiety in industries and domestic consumers over prospects for recovery under President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s two-year-old administration that has done little to placate a frustrating economic crisis.

 “We are currently on stage two as imports are not available at the moment from the traditional sources,” said Zesa spokesman, Fullard Gwasira.

“Load shedding will thus be up to 18 hours a day. Our strategic regional partner, (Eskom of South Africa) has experienced a series of plant breakdowns and is currently implementing load shedding in its home market. This means that they don’t have excess power to export. As a result, the 400MW which the utility was importing is not available. This, together with shortages caused by decreased generation at Kariba due to water levels, and plant breakdowns at Hwange Power station, means that load shedding is being implemented at stage two,” he said.