BASOTHO National Party (BNP) leader, Thesele ‘Maseribane says the escalating power tariffs in the country provide a compelling reason for the second phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) to be implemented with the hydropower generation component.
Chief ‘Maseribane made the remarks while addressing a political rally in Thaba Tseka early this week to canvass for the 3 June 2017 elections.
The elections were called by King Letsie III after he dissolved parliament on 6 March 2017 in light of a successful no-confidence vote by the opposition against the seven-party coalition government.
Chief ‘Maseribane’s remarks came in the wake of the decision last week by the Lesotho Electricity and Water Authority (LEWA) to hike electricity and water charges with effect from Monday this week.
General purpose and domestic electricity tariffs were increased by 3.6 percent to M1.52 and M1.35 per kilowatt hour from M1.47/kWh and M1.3/kWh respectively.
Water charges went up by 4.6 percent to M4.9 (for the 0 to 5 kilo litres consumption band) from M4.7/kl.
The BNP leader told party supporters that such increases were fueled in part by the country’s heavy dependence on power imports from South Africa and Mozambique. He said they could be mitigated by expediting the construction of local power projects.
Chief ‘Maseribane, however, said the draft agreement for the LHWP II which was submitted to parliament did not include the power generation component clause, adding it was imperative to rectify this anomaly.
The envisaged hydropower generation component of LHWP II, called the Kobong Project, would consist of a 1 200 megawatts (MW) pump storage dam and power generation facility constructed along the upper Kobong River, a tributary of the Malibamatšo River which flows into the Katse Dam reservoir.
The LHWP is a multi-phased project to provide water to South Africa’s Gauteng province as well as generate electricity for Lesotho. It was established by the 1986 Treaty signed by the governments of the two countries.
The project entails harnessing the waters of the Senqu/Orange River in the Lesotho highlands through the construction of a series of dams for the mutual benefit of the two countries.
Phase I of the project was completed in 2003 and inaugurated in 2004, and Phase II is currently underway.
The idea was to have the bulk of the power generated at Kobong exported to South Africa while a smaller portion would be used locally.
However, questions on the viability of the power generation component have been raised by the South African government which was supposed to fund it.
This resulted in the recommendation of market and integration studies, geotechnical investigations as well as legal and commercial arrangements to decide if the power project should go ahead.
The Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) has said the studies which commenced last year, would take two years to complete.
And in his address at the rally, Chief ‘Maseribane said Basotho were currently burdened by high electricity and water tariffs and were therefore counting on the project to mitigate that.
He said at the time of the dissolution of the Ninth Parliament last month, principal chiefs had tabled a “very important petition regarding the future of this country in the senate”.
“The petition was on the exclusion of the hydropower generation station as a component of the Mashai Dam (now known as Polihali Dam),” Chief ‘Maseribane stated.
The project, he said, was vital considering that Lesotho spends “over M290 million to buy 68 MW per annum from South Africa and Mozambique”.