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Solution to current power deficit not in increasing electricity tariffs – JCTR

THE Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection says nothing or very little has been done to move away from over-reliance on hydro-generated power.

Releasing the basic needs and nutritional basket for October, JCTR stated that although Zambia was blessed with a lot of water, the onset of climate change beckons to diversify the country’s energy generation capacity.

It stated that the solution to the current power deficit does not lie in increasing electricity tariffs by over 100 per cent.

JCTR observed that the majority of poor households which cannot afford generators, gas cookers and solar panels are now forced to rely on charcoal, thereby affecting negatively the already fragile environment.

It stated that Zambia had been plunged into darkness, as massive and prolonged power cuts affect the entire country.

“This has been as a result of the reluctance by governments, past and present, to expand and diversify the energy generation capacity and aggressively embrace alternative and renewable energy sources. Since independence, the country has over-relied on hydro-generated power. As a result, Zambia is now grappling with acute power deficit. The country’s main utility, Zesco, has reported a power deficit of about 700 megawatts in September from the initial 273 megawatts recorded in June,” it stated.

“Consequently, as means to mitigate the shortfall, Zesco is now subjecting some residents of Lusaka to a more than 15 hours of load-shedding a day. This has reduced production in the economy as electricity is a major factor of production. JCTR has observed that the majority of poor households, which cannot afford generators, gas cookers and solar panels are now forced to rely on charcoal, thereby affecting negatively the already fragile environment. These power outages and energy costs have meant an increase in production of goods, which in turn has led to further increase in the cost of living.”

JCTR wondered why the country had failed to learn from past experiences of low water levels at Lake Kariba and invest in alternative and renewable energy sources.

“Nothing or very little has been done to move away from over-reliance on hydro-generated power. Although Zambia is blessed with a lot of water, the onset of climate change beckons us to diversify our energy generation capacity. The solution to the current power deficit does not lie in increasing electricity tariffs by over 100 per cent. Lest we forget, in 2018, electricity tariffs were increased by 75 per cent.”

JCTR stated that the 2018 tariff increment had a major effect on the cost of living.

It stated that immediately following this increase, the cost of living for a family of five in Lusaka went beyond a K5,000 for the first time.

JCTR stated that there was evidence that some companies were forced to lay off workers because of the increased costs of productions and that more households, especially the poor resorted to using charcoal.

“The adverse effects of load shedding have continued to be reflected in the JCTR monthly Basic Needs and Nutritional Basket. Releasing the October 2019 basket for a family of 5 living in Lusaka, JCTR noted a further increase in the cost of living which was mainly attributed to high costs of production in the economy. The cost of living for a family of five in Lusaka increased by K28.41 to K6,355.69 in October from K6,327.28 in September,” it stated.

“The upward shift in the cost of living is largely due to a rise in prices of some food items. The price of rice increased from K101 per kg in September to K108 per kg in October 2019. The price of sweet potatoes increased from K21 per kg in September to K34 per kg in October 2019. The price of cassava increased from K7 per kg to K18 per kg. The price of beef increased from K36 per kg to K40 per kg. The increase in the prices of nutritious foods such as rice, sweet potatoes and cassava is due to scarcity of the commodities on the market during this period of the year.”

It stated that it was for this reason that JCTR had been advocating for cultivation of nutritious foods throughout the year, through sustainable practices, to promote affordability and accessibility of nutritious foods.

“To reduce demand on electricity as well as to reduce deforestation and environmental degradation through the use of charcoal and fire-wood, the government has proposed to zero-rate importation of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), gas stoves, other gas cookers and gas boilers in 2020. This is commendable. However, we urge the government and other stakeholders to take deliberate measure to vigorously sensitise the populace on the benefits of using gas stoves as opposed to using electric stoves. We also urge the government to put measures to protect our forests and forest reserves as most of them are endangered due to the high demand for charcoal and due to encroachment in the name of development by the country’s ‘elite’,” JCTR stated.

“Lastly, we urge the government to come up and share with the nation a workable national policy and plan to expand and diversify the energy generation capacity by aggressively embracing alternative and renewable energy sources.”

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