By Mots’elisi Sekonyela
The Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) in an exclusive interview with this paper on February 13th warned that if Basotho do not reduce their electricity consumption following a turbine malfunction at ‘Muela hydropower station, the electricity company may be forced to implement load shedding as a way of reducing import costs.
On February 9th, both LEC and Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) issued a joint statement to the public about one of the hydropower turbines at the ‘Muela hydropower station (Unit 2) being temporarily out of service. The turbine was said to have been offline since February 8th. “This has reduced electricity production at the power station, which may affect other services. We urge the public to reduce their consumption of electricity during this time, to help manage the costs associated with imported electricity,” the statement read.
According to the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA)’s Public Relations Manager, Mpho Brown, the turbine malfunctioned due to a mechanical problem with the oil cooling system which caused the machine to trip. As to how soon the turbine will be back in service, Brown said he cannot give the exact date, but the teams have been working around the clock to get the unit back online.
This unit is said to account for 1/3 of the total production at ‘Muela hydropower station, which is the capacity of electricity that is currently lost due to it being offline.
For this reason, LEC’s Public Relations Manager, Ts’epang Ledia said they are now heavily relying on outsourced electricity from foreign hydropower plants to make up for this production deficit at ‘Muela. He however said importing is expensive and cannot be relied upon for long term. “Compared to all the foreign companies that supply us with electricity, ‘Muela is significantly affordable. We get electricity from Eskom, Electricidade de Mozambique (EDM) and from Southern African Power Pool (SAPP). All of these are very pricy, EDM even charges in dollars,” he said.
He therefore urged Basotho to use their electricity efficiently, making sure that they switch off unnecessary lights and appliances, saying failure to do this could leave the regulator no choice but to implement load shedding, should the problems at ‘Muela persist.
Ledia said if the winter season comes by before the offline turbine at ‘Muela hydropower station gets restored, then surely they will start with load shedding implementation across all parts of the country. This he said is because in winter, the demand and usage of electricity increases.
Amid fears that LEC may be in cahoots with Eskom to limit their supply to Lesotho so as to help in the Eskom power crisis in South Africa at the expense of Basotho, Ledia refuted the allegations as ignorant and misinformed. “The Eskom power crisis in South Africa has been going on for so many years, with no effect to Basotho. Therefore I advise all those with such fears to rest assured that if we implement load shedding, it will be purely due to problems at ‘Muela not because of Eskom,” he said.
The LHDA through its Public Relations Manager said they have no authority on the distribution of electricity to end users. Whether or not load shedding will be implemented is entirely a decision of the LEC as LHDA’s mandate only covers hydropower generation components.
Currently, there are two districts in the country that are affected by the Eskom load shedding, being Qacha’s Nek and Mokhotlong. Both of these places are not connected to the national grid of energy supply as they get powered directly from Eskom. Ledia said the Mokhotlong district is connected to the Clarens power supply while Qacha’s neck is connected to Matatiele.
Ledia also explained that there are plans to connect these districts to the main national grid, with Qacha’s nek likely to get in any time now as plans on its side have made a significant progress.