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Apprehension mounts over delay in LHWP II’s hydro power scheme

Business

Bereng Mpaki

Concerns have emerged over the sluggish progress of the hydropower scheme component, which seems relegated to an afterthought under the ongoing second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP II).

The issue came to light during the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority’s (LHDA) stakeholder conference and ten-year strategy launch at the ‘Manthabiseng Convention Centre this week.

The two-day event provided a platform where the LHDA engaged with key stakeholders of the LHWP to share information on the history, recent developments, progress on ongoing works, as well as lessons learned during the implementation of the project.

The event also served to provide feedback from the beneficiaries of the project, the communities where the project operates, as well as authorities and key partners in the project. It was an opportunity to hear thoughts, collect insights and accountability for the LHDA.

Ben Rafoneke, one of the attendants at the event, raised a concern on the slow pace of the hydropower scheme compared to the water transfer component, suggesting it looked like an impendent project from the rest of the LHWP II works. 

Currently, no physical construction works have begun under the hydropower scheme, as opposed to the significant ground covered in the water transfer component to date, where major construction works including the dam wall, transfer tunnel and large bridges are already underway.

Following additional feasibility studies that ran from 2016 to 2019, the Oxbow scheme is only at the procurement stages for the design and construction supervision, including environmental impact assessments of the scheme, and is expected to run from 2024 until 2026.

The actual construction of the power scheme is only expected to commence from 2026 to 2030, before its commissioning in 2031. In contrast, the water delivery to South Africa is scheduled for a year earlier.

“I am concerned about the slow progress of the hydropower component of the project. It is delayed compared to the water transfer component and almost looks like a stand-alone project. Is there a way in which this can be fast-tracked?” Rafoneke said.

In response, Ntsoli Maiketso, LHDA’s Divisional Manager Phase II, cited the authority’s partial mandate from the government as a key implementation challenge.

Maiketso noted that while they have approval for detailed project designs, they lacked the mandate to secure funding for the project.

According to the LHWP treaty between Lesotho and South Africa, the funding of the power generation component of the LHWP is the responsibility of Lesotho, while funding for the water transfer component is funded by South Africa.

“The LHDA is given a partial mandate to design the project, and the financing part of the project has not yet gotten a green light from the government. If we had a full mandate over the project, the current pace of the scheme would significantly improve. No one is happy about this pace at the moment,” Maiketso said.   

He also indicated that the proposed power scheme is set to be constructed at Oxbow, and will have the capacity to generate about 80 megawatts (MW), operating for only six hours a day.

With Lesotho’s current maximum demand load at 170MW, and ‘Muela Hydropower station producing 72MW, the Oxbow scheme aims to address a portion of the country’s 100MW shortfall.

Lesotho presently relies on electricity imports from South Africa and Mozambique to meet its remaining domestic power demand.

The Minister of Natural Resources, Mohlomi Moleko was not reachable after several attempts for his reaction regarding the apparent delay in the hydropower scheme progress.

However, Prime Minister Ntsokoane Matekane, who graced the occasion on the second day, echoed calls for the expeditious implementation of the Oxbow project

“We would like to see the implementation of Oxbow Hydropower scheme expedited,” Matekane said.  

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