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Lesotho to import more electricity

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… as ‘Muela power station shuts down  

Seabata Mahao 

Lesotho will import an additional 72 Megawatts (MW) of electricity from South Africa (SA) and Mozambique from October 1 to March 31, 2025. 

Through its power utility company, Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC), Lesotho already imports about 60MW from SA’s Eskom and Mozambique’s Electricity de Moçambique, which means total power imports will increase to about 132MW from October.

The impending power importation is due to a planned maintenance project on water transfer tunnels connected to ‘Muela Hydropower Station, which will be shut down for six months during the works. 

‘Muela generates 72MW power through the flow of water being transferred from Lesotho to SA under the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), and cutting the water flow to the power station means power generation will not be possible.

There will also be no water transferred to SA during the maintenance period. 

“One of the purposes of the LHWP is to enhance the use of Senqu River by storing, diverting, and controlling the flow of Senqu River and its affluents to effect delivery of specified quantities of water to a Designated Point in the South Africa and by utilizing such delivery system to generate hydro-electricity power in the Kingdom of Lesotho,” Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) said this week.

“As part of the planned maintenance of the key components of the water delivery system, the Transfer Tunnel from Katse to ‘Muela and Delivery Tunnel from ‘Muela to Ash River Outfall in South Africa, LHDA will stop the delivery of water to the South Africa and the generation of hydro-electric power for Lesotho for a period of six months, starting from October 1 2024 to March 31 2025. As per the provisions of the LHWP Treaty, the LHDA is responsible for the Transfer Tunnel and Delivery Tunnel South, which are situated within the Border of Lesotho and TCTA is responsible for the Deliver Tunnel North, which starts from the Caledon River to the Arsh River Outfall,” the statement reads. 

LHDA’s Chief Executive Officer, Tente Tente explained that the scheduled maintenance follows inspections that were conducted from September to November 2019.

“It was established that the painting on all sections of the tunnels that are steel-lined was wearing off and if left for too long, there was a risk that the steel lining would corrode. 

“The specialists advised that the tunnel could safely be operated for a period of around five years from October 2019 to October 2024. Safe operation of the system significantly beyond the five years could not be guaranteed,” Tente explained. 

Tente added that LHDA also plans to use the opportunity to undertake other routine maintenance on the ‘Muela Hydropower Station and other related components. This will include but is not limited to the replacement of the process’s controllers of the MHP Unit 1. 

“The station houses three units that generate hydropower. The 10-year inspection and refurbishment of Units 1 and 3, have recently been completed. The 10-year inspection and refurbishment of Unit 2 and process controllers is planned for February to May 2024.

“LHDA will undertake extensive maintenance and repair works in the tunnels. This will require a complete shutdown of the station to empty the tunnels of any water and make way for maintenance teams to enter the tunnels and carry out the repair work. It is a sensitive, and extensive job that is done with the highest degree of safety considerations and care, and thus requires thorough planning, execution, and post maintenance inspections before water is released back into the tunnels.” Tente stated. 

The LHDA said it has prepared a nine months long communications effort to ensure that Basotho and all key stakeholders remain informed of the progress leading up to, during and after the outage to ensure that sufficient information is available, and the impact to the day-to-day lives of people is minimised. 

LHDA will mitigate the risk of loss of royalties revenue by delivering more water before and after the outage. However, the same is not possible for electricity.

On his part, LEC’s Public Relations Officer, Ts’epang Ledia said they were already in negotiations with their partners, Eskom and Electricity de Moçambique for purchasing additional power. 

“We are already in negotiations with our neighbours for their assistance during this upcoming period. LEC will soon confirm how much power they will obtain from each country,” he said.

On the possibility of Lesotho being negatively affected by SA’s ongoing load-shedding programme, Ledia said they do not anticipate such challenges to be imported into Lesotho.

“In terms of load-shedding, Lesotho will not be affected. However we are yet to verify the demand and supply of each country.” 

He further said LEC would foot the bill for purchasing the power from SA and Mozambique. 

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