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Over-dependence on hydro-Power doing us more harm than good

25th March 2012
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Allow me to be a participant in the ongoing discussion about the fate of direct electricity consumers and everybody else who indirectly benefits from the “white man’s fire”, as the crisis in this sector deepens by the day.

It is all reflected in the on-and-off power failure, whose social-economic consequences to our society are well documented. Some observers predict that the economic damage done to our country by years of mismanaging the energy sector might take even a decade to reverse or remedy.

The assumption here is that the causes behind this mismanagement are addressed early enough to avoid more damage. There are no indicators to give us hope that we are soon getting on the right track.

This means the story of electricity challenges in the land of apparent peace is an old one and, under normal circumstances, it is supposed to be no more attention attracting.

However since energy so much affects our lives, as it is an economic engine and its use is becoming popular by the day, only a reckless citizen can ignore developments taking place in this area. There are always new angles to this sad story, and currently we have two of them, which happen to be a source of concern to many of us.

The first disturbing development is a new cycle of daily power cuts we began to experience in Dar es Salaam for nearly a month now, which the Tanzania Electricity Supply Company (TANESCO) says have nothing to do with power “rationing,” as these are caused by temporary distribution network-related setbacks, expected to be overcome “soon.”

In actual fact during the first few days of the latest cycle of partial power outages, TANESCO kept consumers in the dark in both senses of the word - that is literal darkness and keeping mum, probably by hoping against hope that the apparent technical problems would be easily overcome. But this is not happening.

Then there is this good news which those conversant with energy politics and economics in the country can only swallow with a pinch of salt.

We are referring to the press conference convened by the Chief Executive Officer of TANESCO at midweek where he told the public through journalists to give the monopolistic power supply company two years, after which they will witness it stabilizing power distribution to its esteemed customers.

Some journalists at that press conference wondered whether the CEO of TANESCO had opted to behave like most local politicians who won’t mind to shamelessly promise to build bridges even where there are no rivers, or had concrete plans to justify his unprecedented and over-blown optimism.

They however, listened attentively to hear Engineer William Mhando unveil his box of tricks which within the next 24 months will make electricity consumers forget the hell they are currently going through.

The CEO then revealed that the company which needs about Tsh 1.3 trillion to cope with problems like crippling power production cuts, transmission losses and distribution leakages is busy outsourcing for funds, and a deal to secure a Tsh 408 billion loan from a consortium of commercial banks was in the final stages of being sealed.

This apparently is the basis of the CEO’s optimism, as the company intends to roll out a national plan to improve the infrastructure and processes involved in making the vital commodity readily available to consumers.

Can the envisaged emergency measures really help to stabilize things, and at what cost? The devil must be somewhere in the details. First is the gap between the amount of money TANESCO needs to operate more efficiently and what it is likely to secure, especially when the loans guarantor is not in a hurry to save the rocking boat.

Second is the fact that the interest on loans charged by commercial banks is not all that generous while the consumer, already feeling the impact of the new tariffs, will then have to pay through the nose.

The two-digit inflation rate may also disrupt the company’s financial plans. Court battles the company is fighting may make matters worse if they lose.

All said, it is self-deceit to think that power problems in the country will be eased by simply putting some financial oxygen into TANESCO, You do that but, as is always the case, one long dry season takes us back to square one. The solution lies in commitment to diversify our energy supply sources, as experts have been suggesting for years.

Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant (hmuhanika@yahoo.com)

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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