June 2, 2009 / 11:45 AM / 10 years ago

Water weed chokes Zambian power supply for copper

LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia’s state-run power utility is rationing electricity to its vital copper mines because a water weed, introduced from Brazil in the 1990s as a flower, has blocked flows into the biggest hydro power dam.

The southern African country, the continent’s largest copper producer, is also rationing power supply to manufacturers while domestic users have been cut off and traffic disrupted by the failure of lights, a company official said on Tuesday.

The utility company Zesco Ltd.’s spokeswoman, Lucy Zimba, said the aquatic weeds had choked the flow of water into a dam at Kafue Gorge power station, forcing it to halt some generation units and cutting 360 megawatts of Kafue’s 990 MW capacity.

Zambia has a total generation capacity of 1,600 MW.

“We have had 360 megawatts of power out of our system since May 30 and this has caused major disruptions. It has affected the mines (and) other industries,”” Zimba told Reuters.

“We are also carrying out further investigations to see whether it is only the weeds that have caused this little flow of water,” she added.

Zambia’s power supply has been affected by the plant, known as Kafue weed, over the past 10 years.

Energy officials say a Zambian woman traveling from Brazil in the early 1990s introduced the weed, thinking it was a flower, and grew it near the river, causing a recurring problem.

Zimba said the utility was working to remove the exotic plant from the Kafue River.

Copperbelt Energy Company (CEC), which buys electric power from Zesco and sells to nearly all copper mines in Zambia, said the utility had capped power supply to mines at 430 MW.

CEC’s Chairman Hanson Sindowe could not immediately say whether the mines would reduce production due to the power cuts.

“Zesco Ltd., has informed us that we cannot take more than 430 megawatts (power) at the moment and this has meant reducing supply to the mines,” Sindowe told Reuters.

Officials say Zambia copper mines consumed 530 MW during peak production before new mines started operations this year.

Sindowe said, however, that the impact of the power reduction on copper output would be moderated because some mines had also suspended or reduced output due to the effects of the global financial crisis.

Editing by James Macharia and Anthony Barker

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