By: Thandiwe Kubere

The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) yesterday announced the planned maintenance of the Phase l water transfer and delivery tunnels, which will result in a total shutdown of electricity generation from ‘Muela Hydropower Station and the water delivery and transfer system will be put to a stop.

This process is intended to last six months which during this period, water will not be transferred from Lesotho to South Africa, therefore affecting and resulting in a loss of royalties estimated at millions the country gets from South Africa. The planned maintenance will be conducted from October 1st, 2024 to March 31st, 2025.

LHDA Chief Executive Mr. Tente Tente stated that one of the purposes of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LWHP) is to enhance the use of Senqu River by storing, diverting, and controlling the flow of the river to ensure delivery of specified quantities of water to a designated point to the neighbouring country and by utilizing such delivery systems to generate hydro-electricity power in Lesotho. As per the provisions of the LWHP Treaty, the LHDA is responsible for the transfer and delivery tunnel South which is situated within the border of Lesotho.

Mr. Tente enlightened the issue of cleaning and maintaining the tunnels was brought to light during the tunnels inspections conducted in September to November 2019. During the inspection, it was established that the paintings on all sections of the tunnels that are steel lined are wearing off and if left for too long stand a chance to corrode. “The specialists advised that the tunnel could safely be operated for a period of around five years. Safe operation of the system significantly beyond the five years could not be guaranteed, therefore it was deemed wise to maintain the tunnels to lest the spoil”, he said.

He mentioned the repair work 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. “This 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 to the tunnels”, he said.

LHDA Divisional Manager for Development & Operations Reentseng Molapo, who oversees the operations and maintenance of LHDA’s infrastructure, revealed the outage means the Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) will have to resort to other measures to ensure that the nation is sustained with electricity within six months period of maintenance. The country also stands to lose out on 200 to 300 million anticipated from South African Royalties. However, on the bright side, 300 to 400 Basotho are assured to be hired in the areas of maintenance for the process requires more manual labour.

He stated the repair work is expected to last for about four months in total, whilst preparation which include emptying of the tunnels will occupy the first month, and the final inspections and refilling the tunnels with water will take up the final month, making the total outage period to be six months.

Mr. Molapo asserted that the authority notified relevant stakeholders including the likes of LEC to make arrangements for alternative electricity supply which are already ongoing and the government was also engaged thoroughly on preparation for that eventuality. Hence, the recent announcement by the Ministry of Energy.  He further stated LHDA will mitigate the risk of loss of Royalties Revenue by delivering more water before and after the outage. However, it is not the same for electricity.

Mr. Tente enlightened LHDA plans to use the opportunity created by the 2024 Tunnels outage to undertake other routine maintenance on the ‘Muela Hydropower Station and other related components. This will include but not limited to the replacement of the process’s controllers of the MHP Unit 1.