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Tonse busy fixing what was not broken

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“There are also fears that the decommissioning of Aggreko machines will result in massive load shedding but no this is not the case, we have plans as a government to find long term solutions,” Ibrahim Matola Minister of Energy April 20, 2022 Lilongwe.

Electricity Generation Company (Egenco) was this week ecstatic that it has so far switched on three of the four power generation machines at Kapichira Hydro Power Station in Chikwawa. The development meant the hydropower station—now producing 97 megawatts (MW)—is operating at 75 percent.

Ordinarily, the development is supposed to result in reduced load-shedding. For the past 12 months prolonged power outage negatively impacted the economy. But all this now seems to be behind us. Understandably this is why Egenco is ecstatic.

While bringing Kapichira back to life is a huge success and a relief to Malawians, for which Egenco deserves a pat on the back, I hold Government, as the policy maker, in great disdain because of the suffering it has caused to Malawians and the economy in general.

This suffering was 50 percent man-made and 50-percent caused by Cyclone Ana. While there is very little Egenco could have done to stop the natural disasters, there was everything government should have done to minimise the suffering due to power outages. It was not rocket science to decide that with Kapichira which was supplying 130MW to the national grid shut down, it should at all costs, have kept Aggreko gensets running.

But what does Government, with Matola as the political head of the ministry responsible for power generation, do? It decommissions the Aggreko gensets thereby taking out a further 78MW from the national grid. How so illogical! In all, the country lost 218MW with no solution in sight about how to replace the lost power in the near future.

That silly decision left the country—with a national demand of over 874MW under the business as usual scenario (BAU), scrambling for just over 221MW or so.

Yes, we all knew that the Aggreko deal was expensive. But it was better off than nothing at all. The opportunity cost of keeping people and companies unproductive for a greater part of the day, left Malawi poorer than it was with the Aggreko generators running. The timing of the decommissioning after Egenco had just lost 130MW was poor.

Yet here was a Cabinet minister smiling from ear to ear announcing that government had cancelled the Aggreko deal because it was expensive.

In justifying the decommissioning Matola also said government was already working on cheaper alternatives to the generators like solar power plants that were under construction by renewable energy private companies.

“We have seen concerns from different sections of society about the termination of the Aggreko contract, some are suggesting the millions we spent on generators and fuel should be given to Egenco so that they fix their hydro-electric power plants.

Said Matola: “There are also fears that the decommissioning of Aggreko machines will result in massive load shedding, but no, this is not the case, we have plans as a government to find long term solutions.”

Truth is that over the past 12 months the country has gone through just the opposite of what Matola promised the nation on April 30 last year. The so-called cheaper alternative solar generated power plants never saved the day.

No wonder barely a month after decommissioning Aggreko machines, the same Escom which had also misled government on the gensets was back telling Malawians to brace for long periods of load-shedding following the removal of the 218MW from the national grid. Bad as the Aggreko contract was, the Tonse administration only made things worse. Theirs was a clear case of trying to fix what was not broken.

One can only hope the Tonse leaders have learned something from this experience. The big teaching point here is ‘Don’t try to fix what is not broken’. The other lesson is that the Tonse administration should stop destroying everything that came with the previous administration. On more times than one can count they have ended up destroying what was working.

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