BY ANDREW KUNAMBURA/TINASHE KAIRIZA
A CHINESE firm undertaking the US$1,1 billion refurbishment and expansion of Zimbabwe’s largest thermal power station says it has resumed operations on the project, seven months after construction was halted by the COVID-19-induced lockdown.
Governments worldwide have significantly eased lockdown regulations announced at the beginning of the year, allowing the shipment of critical equipment required to complete the project.
Sinohydro site manager Tang Zhaolai told NewsDay Business at the weekend that completion dates for the Hwange Thermal Power Plant would be moved forward by five months.
He said the project was 52% complete, against a target of 68%.
“Unit 7 was supposed to be commissioned in October 2021, but will now be commissioned in March 2022. Unit 8 will be commissioned in June 2022 instead of the initial plan of January 2022,” Zhaolai told NewsDay Business.
“The good thing is that some of the equipment is shared and this means that once Unit 7 is completed, all efforts and resources will be directed to Unit 8. Everyone wants us to finish the project and deliver power. We cannot say we are satisfied, but we are doing our best to improve,” he said.
“The traffic has of late been smooth to allow smooth movement of equipment, mainly through South Africa. Every day we are getting truckloads of necessary equipment and this is encouraging,” Zhaolai said.
He said as part of its own coronavirus containment measures, Sinohydro had offered accommodation and food to its employees on site to restrict them from interacting with nearby communities.
“We provide free accommodation to all our employees on site, both the local ones and the Chinese. We also give them some allowances to help them sustain their families during this time,” he said.
“In a way we can say we imposed our own localised lockdown here and we even put up a perimeter fence to restrict movement and I think it has worked well because so far, we have not had any coronavirus case and work is going on smoothly. We invited the ministry of health to inspect our facilities and they made important recommendations which we have fully implemented,” he said.
He added that the project was designed to preserve the environment.
“For this project from design we were considering the environment. The filter installed will remove Sulphur dioxide which is emitted into the air by the old units,” he said.
The Hwange Thermal Power Plant is the largest project being undertaken by Zimbabwe under China’s Belt and Road Initiative through which Beijing seeks to fund bankable capital projects in developing countries, mainly in Africa.
On completion, it will add 600 megawatts (MW) into the national grid and significantly ease Zimbabwe’s power crisis.
Zimbabwe currently requires about 1 800MW during peak periods.
However, frequent breakdowns at existing power facilities have reduced production to less than 500MW.