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When electricity stops being a luxury

Written by  McDonald Chiwayula

Have you ever thought that just a few seconds of power failure has serious repercussions on society? Well the Electricity Generation Corporation Malawi Limited (Egenco) knows better hence the corporation's  green drive in collaboration with its partners including Association of Environmental Journalists (AEJ)  in targeting to plant over 8000 trees in the 2019/20 tree planting season.

Liabunya waters a tree during the occasion Liabunya waters a tree during the occasion

Chief Executive Officer for the company, William Liabunya,  disclosed the green target his organisation has set for the season  when he led staffers, partners  and  the  surrounding community in planting 3500 trees along Wankulumadzi River in Mwanza.


Liabunya said all efforts leading to protection of river basins  support control of siltation that significantly affects generation of electricity.


“When we talk of deforestation, siltation and its effects on electricity generation comes into play; a clear example is what happened to Tedzani dam. We have spent almost 7 million US dollars (K5.1 billion) to reclaim the dam using a contractor. From this dam we generate 26 megawatts of electricity but the reclamation process took us about 3 months. So you will appreciate the loss of revenue in the period and in addition to make up for the loss of power we have to run diesel generators which are an extra cost to the operations,” said Liabunya.  


Consumer Association of Malawi (Cama) has always reiterated that in modern day and age electricity is no longer a luxury but a necessity. So when power outages arise due to a number of factors including environmental degradation, even in remotest areas of the country many a folk bear the blunt. Rose Nchelemuka, 21, who hails from Mulongolora Village in Traditional Authority Kanduku in the district attested to the fact that a heavy burden is placed on women's shoulders in such scenarios.


“The harsh realities of climate change and environmental degradation are much felt by women. You see our society is shaped in such a way that some household chores are wholly left to women. For instance, when there’s no electricity we (women) cover long distances to get to the nearest diesel operated maize mill. Secondly, accessing potable water is another headache we bear more especially when there are more periods of blackouts. Our experience shows that taps at water kiosks usually run dry during load shedding. When it comes to fuel for cooking that you can visibly see for yourself that forests are being  wiped out and that’s another story how we struggle to find firewood for daily use hence our support for this reforestation exercise,” said Nchelemuka.



Nchelemuka: 'Women bear the blunt of power outages'


I further explored how Egenco’s core business affects the health sector especially when electricity generation is lower than demand. I caught up with Diana Jere, Associate Professor at Kamuzu College of Nursing. Jere said delivery of health services can be highly compromised in absence of consistent power supply.


She said: “The health sector relies on electricity for its effective delivery of services. It’s been five years since our partnership with Egenco. This clearly demonstrates to the public out there that if we don’t take care of the environment, nature has its own way of fighting humanity which usually is disastrous to mankind. Particularly the nursing profession, we need uninterrupted power supply. Special medicines need refrigerators to be stored properly, surgical procedures and life supporting machines all need electricity. This is the more reason nurses now are actively getting involved in reforestation exercises.”


 Sustainable Development Goal number 7 advocates for affordable and clean energy: “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”


Similarly the 2018 National Energy Policy (Nep) which succeeded the 2003 Nep, seeks to widen the energy mix and identified electricity, nuclear energy, liquefied petroleum gas, petroleum fuels, bio-ethanol, bio-mass and other bio-fuels, biogas and natural gas, coal, and demand side management, as priority areas for actions.


As Egenco and other stakeholders fight deforestation through restoring the vegetative cover, are there immediate plans to increase electricity generation? That’s the question I put to Liabunya.


“Yes we are exploring a number of alternatives so we have a mixed source of electricity generation.We are embarking on a solar farm in Salima which will add 20 megawatts to the grid and soon we will commence the Kam’mwamba coal power plant which is expected to give us 300 megawatts. All these plus other plans in the pipeline are to cushion the adverse effects of deforestation and climate change on electricity generation,” explained Liabunya.


Much as Egenco might take a lead in reforestation, sustainability of the efforts rest with the community and their local leaders. Senior Chief Kanduku of Mwanza said his subjects have been highly sensitized on the impact of wanton cutting of trees for charcoal making.


“My presence at this activity is a clear signal that traditional leaders are concerned with the environmental degradation chiefly caused by charcoal making. We have set up committees to look into these issues and bring to book perpetrators of the vice. There are some NGOs who are advocating for afforestation and reforestation initiatives to the effect that some village woodlots are being established in the district. We encourage these efforts because at the end of the day they all sum up to an improved welfare that includes consistent power supply,” said Kanduku.


Government set a target of 65 million trees to be planted in the current season which should provide a good check on soil erosion and siltation. Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Patrick Matanda, said the importance of afforestation and allowing natural regeneration cannot be overemphasized.


"The Ministry is pushing for stiffer penalties to be inserted in environmental acts to punish those destroying forests and deter would be offenders. Egenco is engaged in production of power but you can appreciate that they need a good environment for the company to operate effectively. We all need to lead quality lives and electricity is part of it."



Wamkulumadzi River in Mwanza laden with silt and trash


According to the World Bank only 12.7 percent (2.3 million) of the 18.6 million people in the country have access to electricity.


Currently Egenco generates 372.64 MW. The energy mix is 350.94 MW from hydro power plants and 21.7 MW from standby diesel power plants.


The unbundling of Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) gave rise to Egenco which opened its doors as a separate business entity on January 1, 2017.


Egenco is operating four hydro power stations namely: Nkula, Tedzani, Kapichira and Wovwe. It also runs thermal power plants in Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Mapanga in Blantyre.

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