THE long-awaited electricity connection for 486 households living around the Mohale Dam area finally began last week.
Over the next 30 weeks, the households will be connected to the national power grid as part of a compensation scheme for those who were affected by the construction of the Mohale Dam, under the first phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP).
The LHWP is a multi-phased project to provide water to the Gauteng region of South Africa and to generate hydro-electricity for Lesotho. It was established by the 1986 Treaty signed by the governments of Lesotho and South Africa.
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 LHWP, consisting of the Katse and Mohale dams, (Mohale Dam is the second-largest dam in the Lesotho Highlands Development Project) the ‘Muela hydropower station and associated tunnels was completed in 2003 and inaugurated in 2004.
Phase II of the LHWP is currently in progress. It consists of two separate but related components: water transfer and hydropower generation.
The water transfer component of Phase II comprises an approximately 165m high concrete faced rock fill Dam at Polihali downstream of the confluence of the Khubelu and Senqu (Orange) Rivers and an approximately 38km long concrete-lined gravity tunnel connecting the Polihali reservoir to the Katse reservoir.
Other Phase II activities include advance infrastructure (roads, accommodation, power lines and telecommunication, etc.) and the implementation of environmental and social mitigating measures.
The hydropower component of Phase II, which is currently under further feasibility studies, may include a pumped storage scheme, conventional hydropower such as the expansion of the ‘Muela infrastructure or new greenfield sites.
Its exact form will be determined on completion of the further feasibility studies. Phase II is expected to be substantially complete by the end of 2024.
The beneficiary households, which are from five villages located around the Mohale dam area namely Ha Tšiu, Ha Koporale, Ha Mokhathi, Ha Montši and Ha Nyakane, on Friday breathed a collective sigh of relief when the minister of Energy Tsukutlane Au officially launched the commencement of the power connection works.
The communities have been waiting for their compensation following the completion of the dam construction in 2002 to date.
“Our happiness cannot be measured with this belated development,” one villager Mphutlane Setlaba said.
“We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. We were even beginning to have doubts that we will one day be connected to electricity,” he added.
For her part, chief executive officer of Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA), which is Lesotho’s side implementing agency of the LHWP, said decision- making takes a long time since the project involves two different countries.
“There are a number of reasons that can be attributed to the delay in implementing compensation to affected communities.
“These, among others, include the fact that the process of decision making takes a long time before any consensus can be reached because it is handled by authorities coming from two different countries which may have differing interests.”
For his part, Mr Au said he expects the initiative to have a positive impact in improving the quality of lives of the beneficiary communities.
He however, noted that there are other villagers around the Mohale dam area who are yet to get connected to electricity.
“Although today we are here for connection of five villages to electricity, the truth is there are more than just five villages around the Mohale area. There are still more villages yet to get connected to the power grid.”
Mr Au further said there was a need for the contractors awarded the contract to connect households to power to adhere to the stipulated timelines.
“Many projects have taken too long to complete due to lack of setting definite timelines but with this one, we are going to set time targets to show our commitment to service delivery.”
Power connection at Ha Mokhathi is expected to be completed on 26 July 2019; Ha Tšiu on 20 September 2019, while at Ha Montši, Ha Koporale and Ha Nyakane connection is expected to be completed on 18 October, 2019.
Meanwhile, the connection of the 486 households will significantly add to the number of families with access to electricity, although there is concern that as connections increase, the demand will far outstrip supply.
Lesotho consumes about 100 megawatts (MW) during normal usage periods, however this can go as high as 150 MW during peak times especially winter but currently produces 72 MW at the ‘Muela Hydro-power station, with the additional requirement being imported from South Africa’s Eskom and Mozambique’s EDM.
Lesotho currently has a household connection rate of 39 percent, which translates to 207 000 connected households out of a total of 537 000.
The Ministry of Energy is exploring mobilising more hydropower (in collaboration with the LHDA), and wind and solar power, with two solar investments that are about start at Ha Ramarothole in Mafeteng to generate 90MW by 2025.
One of the investments is led by a private company, One Power, which is planning to generate 20MW.