Zimbabwe and Zambia plan to float a new tender for US$5bn Batoka plant, but doubts linger over hydropower’s future

Zambia and Zimbabwe are retendering a US$5 billion project to build a hydropower plant they previously awarded to General Electric and Power Construction of China, and expect to select new bidders by September next year, an official said.

The Zambezi River Authority — a joint venture between the countries that maintains the Kariba Dam complex — expects to receive bids from potential developers by April 2025 and select bidders five months after that, ZRA Chief Executive Officer Munyaradzi Munodawafa said.

Work on the 2,400-megawatt Batoka Gorge project was initially scheduled to begin in 2020, but it encountered several delays, including the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and difficulties in securing funding. In June, Zambian Energy Minister Peter Kapala said the nation would exit the 2019 contract with GE and Power China because proper procurement methods weren’t followed when the deal was struck.

Drought, blamed on the El Niño weather phenomenon, has gripped the entire southern African region, contributing to elevated food prices that have hurt poorer households. Zambia has declared the situation a national disaster.

Developing water-reserve buffers is therefore a priority, the ZRA chief said.
“Additional hydroelectric schemes will facilitate reservoir regulation for power generation and flood management,” Munodawafa said. “This means generation will be increased at Batoka during the peak season while water will be banked at the Kariba Dam for use during the dry season.”

Water levels at Kariba, which straddles Zambia and Zimbabwe, are expected to keep receding due to poor rainfall, Munodawafa said, although he ruled out decommissioning the dam.
ZRA has allocated 8 billion cubic meters of water to Zambian power utility Zesco and its Zimbabwe Power Company counterpart, which translates to 214MW respectively for the two companies until year-end.

Batoka will serve as a mitigation measure to some of the hydrological problems at Kariba, while at the same time directly contributing “a significant increase to the desperately needed power supply capacity of Zambia and Zimbabwe,” Munodawafa said.

Recently, Zesco MD Victor Mapani said Zambia was no longer keen on pursuing the Batoka project, saying his country was instead looking to the north where rivers are more prolific.

“The alternative is to diversify from hydro into other avenues,” Mapani told reporters earlier this month. “For example, there’s a plan to put up the Batoka on the Zambezi. Even if you put up a plant there, if there’s no water, it will be a white elephant. Our idea is to move hydropower generation from the southern part of the country to the north, where the waters are better placed.”


Bloomberg (additional reporting by newZWire)