Hydropower Fault Plunges Zambia, Much of Zimbabwe Into Darkness

A fault at Zambia’s Kariba North hydropower station Monday caused a blackout across most of Africa’s second largest copper producer and cut supplies to large parts of Zimbabwe.

The Zambian fault knocked out Zimbabwe’s Kariba South hydro-electric plant and its Hwange thermal power plant, Fullard Gwasira, spokesman for state-owned power utility, Zesa Holdings (Pvt) Ltd., said in an interview in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second biggest city.

Electrical transmission in most of southern Africa is inter-connected through the Southern African Power Pool. A “disturbance” at 7:31 p.m. Monday led to a shutdown of generators, while restoration started at 1:20 a.m. Tuesday, Zambia Electricity Supply Corp. spokesman Henry Kapata said.

The fault had “serious safety implications,” Jackson Sikamo, president of the Zambian Chamber of Mines, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

“We’re concerned about these power cuts since yesterday,” Zimbabwe Chamber of Mines Chief Executive Office Isaac Kwesu said in Bulawayo. “Even right now there’s no power and we’re concerned that some employees may be underground since yesterday.”

Eight of Zambia’s 10 provinces were without electricity, while Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare and most of the country’s northern regions lost power.

“Kariba South is back on line, but Hwange takes a bit longer to bring back,” Zesa’s Gwasira said.

Power Rationed

Zimbabwe rations power daily, producing and importing about 1,300 megawatts of power against demand of about 2,200 megawatts. Zambia’s power-generation capacity is 2,310 megawatts, former President Michael Sata said in September.

Zambia’s mining industry, which uses about half the nation’s electricity, produces more copper than any other African country after the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“There will obviously be serious safety implications related to potential flooding and loss of ventilation for the underground mines and massive loss of production all round with possible damage to electrical infrastructure in some cases,” said the Zambian mines chamber’s Sikamo. The group represents companies including First Quantum Minerals Ltd. and Vedanta Resources Plc’s Konkola unit.

Zesco is investigating the cause of the outage, Kapata said.

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