MPs to probe Blackouts

Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Climate Change has summoned Electricity Generation Company (Egenco), Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) and two other institutions to explain causes of persistent national blackouts in the country

`Besides the two, the committee will also meet Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) and Power Marketing Limited (PML).

Speaking in an interview yesterday, the committee’s chairperson Werani Chirenga said first on the line-up will be Egenco this afternoon at Parliament Building in Lilongwe.

He said: “We have invited them to come to Parliament to explain. The whole of this week we are doing this issue. We want to get on top of it and sort it out once and for all.”

The summons follows the national blackout which Malawians experienced for three days in a row from Friday to yesterday.

On Friday, the system shutdown occurred at 11:51am, on Saturday at 5:36 pm while yesterday, Malawians experienced a national blackout at 07:37am.

Meanwhile, the system shutdown has compelled Escom in collaboration with Egenco to institute investigations into the matter.

“This is an abnormal situation and, as such, Escom and Egenco have jointly instituted a team to investigate the cause of these frequent system shutdowns,” reads the Escom notice on the system shutdown issued yesterday.

In a separate interview last evening, Egenco spokesperson Moses Gwaza, while confirming about today’s meeting, said the electricity generation company is yet to establish the cause of the system shutdown.
We are still doing investigations, but Escom is better-placed to comment on this matter because it is the one managing the system from all the power producers,” he said.

The system shutdowns come 12 days after Escom chief executive officer Kamkwamba Kumwenda said the power utility was on its deathbed with piles of losses set to take its last breath unless tariffs are revised upwards to fully recover costs.

Yesterday, both Kumwenda and Escom board chairperson Fredrick Changaya did not pick up their phones on several attempts while spokesperson Kitty Chingota asked for a questionnaire which she had not responded to by press time at 8pm.

Earlier yesterday, Escom called for a press conference to explain issues surrounding the system shutdown, but cancelled the briefing at the eleventh hour.

Since January this year, Malawi has experienced eight national power outages. The first occurred on January 24 and was attributed to the impact of Tropical Cyclone Ana while the second in February was linked to debris that choked the system following the cyclone.

The third power outage occured on May 13 which was reported to have resulted from a solar outage in Salima, the fourth happened on June 6 as a result of a short circuit at Escom’s Kanengo Sub-station in Lilongwe.

The fifth outage on June 18 was as a result of vandalism on Escom’s Nkula A transmission line at Kameza in Blantyre.

Commenting on the matter, former Escom chief executive officer Kandi Padambo said there are several factors that lead to system shutdown including the power instability.

He said when there is an imbalance between the power that is injected into the national grid and power demand, sometimes it causes a system shutdown

That could be one of the causes because now, there are some measures of renewable variable energy into our national grid that could cause some challenges,” said Padambo.

In a separate interview, Consumers Association of Malawi executive director John Kapito suspected that there are some individuals who are shutting down the system deliberately to hurt somebody in government.

He believed that issues surrounding the system shut down are not technical in nature.

Said Kapito: “Our machines have been sabotaged by people working in Escom. They are trying to hurt somebody. And by hurting that person in government, they are hurting all of us. It’s unfortunate because in the end, all are suffering. And the hospitals cannot deliver.”

Currently, Malawi faces a 298MW power generation deficit following the commissioning of the 19.1MW Tedzani IV Hydro Power Station in July last year and the JCM Matswani Solar Corporation Limited 60MW plant in Salima.

The country’s current electricity demand is projected at about 800MW.

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