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Byo Thermal Power Station decommissioning to hit jobs

“Job losses are going to be experienced by both the residents of Bulawayo and also employees of Zesa working at the thermal power station,” the paper titled Socio-economic implications of the decommissioning of the Bulawayo thermal power station on residents reads in part.

THE Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association (BPRA) has warned of massive job losses in the country’s second largest city as the power utility Zesa moves to decommission the Bulawayo thermal power station.

The government last year announced plans to decommission the 77-year-old station, arguing it is now beyond repair due to its old and dilapidated infrastructure.

But in a position paper prepared by Wayne Malinga, an academic and development practitioner, BPRA said decommissioning of the station will lead to massive job losses.

“Job losses are going to be experienced by both the residents of Bulawayo and also employees of Zesa working at the thermal power station,” the paper titled Socio-economic implications of the decommissioning of the Bulawayo thermal power station on residents reads in part.

“For the residents, those working in industries and any other businesses highly dependent on electricity for operations will be adversely affected. Meanwhile, the Zesa employees will suffer retrenchment and, in some instances, get transfers with their families experiencing moves to new areas or work stations.

It added: “The family setup is going to be affected given that children would have to start afresh in terms of seeking admission to new schools amongst a few things.

“Financially, there is no money to run the plants not only in Bulawayo but across the country and over 600 employees are likely to lose their jobs or get transferred. At the present moment vacancies that emerge within the power utility are given to outsiders instead of employees working in these power plants.”

The paper also notes that if the station is decommissioned with no other alternative sources of energy or power, businesses are likely to scale down their operations or completely shut down.

It said retail shops, restaurants and informal businesses will likely be the hardest hit.

“Additionally, power outages are crippling businesses in Bulawayo and living no hope for business owners to make profits with the situation expected to worsen with the decommissioning of the power station which, if fully utilised, could provide an alternative for energy in the city,” the paper said.

“Due to the decommissioning of the power station, residences are likely to experience increased electricity tariffs. This is largely propelled by Zesa spending more money on importing power from neighbouring countries.

“To address this power crisis predicament, the already cash strapped power utility company is charging exorbitant prices for electricity while a lot of money is being spent on buying electricity from other countries instead of investing money to refurbish the small thermal power stations such as the Bulawayo one.”

The paper said residents are likely to face increased power cuts or heightened absence of electricity supplies.

“Already, the current national grid is dependent on a few power stations for electricity supply throughout the country with small thermal power stations being abandoned as alternative sources of power,” it said.

“Little investment towards the refurbishment of the station has been done leading to the dilapidation of infrastructure and equipment.”

The paper said the Bulawayo power station has not been generating any electricity since March 2023. It said its potential to generate 120 megawatts has not been maximized or fully utilised.

“Despite the reasons given for reduction in the burning of fossil fuels, evidence that has come to light indicates that the station was given the go ahead by the Environmental Management Agency through a feasibility study (and even given a certificate to go ahead) with refurbishment due to its low emissions,” it claimed.

Apart from job losses and tariff hikes, the paper warned of loss of a cultural or historical landmark, further de-industrialisation, withdrawal and failure to attract investors, disturbed water supplies, among others.

The paper recommended refurbishment of the station as a backup system, adding there is potential for refurbishment given the vast amounts of technical skills and knowledge amongst employees within the power utility such as engineers and other artisans.

“Already, engineers and artisans within the station have done tremendously despite lack of support from the power utility company such as the repair of Boiler 6 with little at their disposal,” it said.

“Investors have also shown keen interest in the refurbishment of the station as witnessed in the interests shown by Botswana and India in the past.

“The running and full operationalisation of the power plant can go a long way in contributing to the national grid to deal with the power shortages experienced throughout the country. The plant is practically on standby and if given coal it can function quickly.”

In 2018, Zesa reported that work on the refurbishment of the plant would start after securing US$110 million from India’s Eximbank and the government of India. However, the work was stalled by contractual disputes between Zesa and Bulawayo City Council, which was resolved in April 2019.

But in May last year, the government announced that it was considering decommissioning the station.

BPRA recommended more investors to be brought on board. It also called for transparency and accountability in the operations of the power utility as well as addressing ownership of the station.


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