Botswana Sees Power Exports as Failed Coal-Plant Lessons Learned

  • World’s biggest diamond producer targets power exports in 2018
  • Nation in talks with contractor about Morupule B’s performance

Botswana plans to become an electricity exporter by the end of 2018 as the country diversifies its sources of power, ending cuts that affected supply in the world’s largest diamond producer, its vice president said.

The southern African nation is working on alternative electricity sources after restricting supply as breakdowns and maintenance at its sole power plant, Morupule B, forced the facility to run at about a third of its capacity. The new 600-megawatt station, which was built by China National Electric Equipment Corp. and cost 11 billion pula ($1 billion), has been beset with delays and machine failures.

“We’ve burned our fingers with Morupule B -- we’ve learned a painful, hard lesson,” Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi said in an interview Sunday in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. “Beginning from next year, we should have adequate local supply, and we are even going to exceed it. We have sworn we will never again be caught with our pants down where we have insufficient power. By end of 2018 we ought to be able to export power. We’re doing solar, thermal and gas.”

Botswana, which has Africa’s highest credit rating at Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s, has paid for the plant and is in talks with the contractor about its performance, Masisi said, declining to provide more information because the discussions are at a “sensitive stage.”

“We want to have delivered what was promised to us, because we do not owe,” the vice president said. “We do not have a reputation of promising our people certain development projects and not delivering on them -- this was the first and biggest where in terms of direct promise we were not able to deliver because the contractor failed us dismally.”

Solar, Thermal

Unlike several of its African peers that have squandered their mineral wealth, Botswana, which vies with Russia as the world’s biggest diamond producer and also mines nickel, copper, coal and iron ore, has poured money into education, AIDS drugs and infrastructure. The semi-arid nation has an abundance of sunlight and its government has partnered with South Africa’s independent power producer office to develop a 100-megawatt solar project by 2018. The nation has also shortlisted two companies for a coal-bed methane project.

“It’s not our fault that we’re not able to build a power station ourself,” Masisi said. “We have since revised our strategic planning and are going to make sure we diversify the energy mix.”

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