Oliver Kazunga, Senior Business Reporter
A STAND off between the Bulawayo City Council (BCC) and the Zimbabwe Power Company over the demolition of cooling towers at the Bulawayo Thermal Power Station looms after council officials yesterday walked out of a stakeholders’ meeting.
BCC and the Zimbabwe Power Company are embroiled in a dispute over the ownership of the Bulawayo Power Station with the municipality claiming $106 million in unpaid royalties from the power utility.
During a stakeholders meeting held at the Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) boardroom in Bulawayo yesterday, council and the residents associations accused the power company of failing to consult them over the pending demolition of the two cooling towers at the power station.
The meeting, which was attended by Bulawayo Provincial Affairs Minister Judith Ncube, the Mayor, Councillor Solomon Mguni, acting town clerk Mrs Sikhangele Zhou, councillors, residents associations representatives, officials from Zesa, among other stakeholders, was presided over by Energy and Power Development Minister Advocate Fortune Chasi who was accompanied by his permanent secretary Dr Gloria Magombo.
Representing council, the Mayor said it was not their intent to frustrate power generation in the city.
“But we have got our concerns. Firstly, it’s not our culture to debate our debts in public that Bulawayo City Council owes Zesa. In as much as council may owe Zesa, we are owed millions of dollars by Zesa for this power station so in our view, we don’t owe Zesa right now.
“Secondly, this gathering . . . I must emphasise, we came under protest because we can’t come here and ask these people to be judges in our case with ZPC.
“That’s why we went to the courts and we think that the court is the final arbitrator in our dispute but since you have invited us to this meeting we will talk,” said cllr Mguni.
He said BCC was not aware of when and where the first stakeholder consultative meeting was held.
The Mayor said council owned the city and the residents were the owners of public infrastructure such as the Bulawayo Power Station.
He said the local authority was also querying why the ZPC had hired a consultant from outside the country to assess the structural integrity of the cooling towers when council had competent engineers who could perform the task.
“They (BCC engineers) have not been consulted to assess the structural integrity of the towers so that they furnish us with a report on the state of the towers before a decision is made. We can’t be told that there is a consultant who was hired from somewhere who has recommended the demolition of the towers.
“These towers have a historical significance and there is no Bulawayo without those towers so if you destroy those towers, you would rather destroy the city. Destroying the towers is akin to destroying the Great Zimbabwe monuments,” said Cllr Mguni.
BCC, he said, told ZPC that if the power company wants to build a power station, the local authority would avail land for the project.
ZPC which has secured US$110 million line of credit from India EximBank to repower Bulawayo Power Station, has said it plans to demolish the two cooling towers because the power station has outlived its lifespan of not more than 30 years.
The station was built in 1947 with an installed capacity of 120 megawatts.
“If Zesa or ZPC is serious about consulting the City of Bulawayo as stakeholders and owners of this property, they know where to find us (at the council offices) so that we come up with a position.
“But the long and short of it honourable Minister (Chasi) is that this matter is still before the courts and let us not be contemptuous of the court processes,” said cllr Mguni.
Adv Chasi apologised on behalf of Zesa.
“I would like to apologise on behalf of Zesa. While we were coming for this meeting, I asked them where the meeting was being held and their response was ‘we are fighting with BCC and our relations are strained,” he said.
Adv Chasi said the stakeholder meeting was by right supposed to have been held at the City Council premises.
He also produced a voluminous Environmental Management Plan on the repowering of Bulawayo Power Station, which the local authority said it was not aware of.
When Adv Chasi was addressing the gathering, Cllr Mguni and his entourage walked out.
Bura chairman Mr Winos Dube castigated Cllr Mguni and his entourage for walking out of the meeting.
In his address, Adv Chasi said Government was committed to improving power generation to drive the national economic agenda. of the
“For us to build a new power station it requires a lot of resources in terms of funding. BCC and Zesa should work in unison. When BCC and Zesa are fighting, it’s retrogressive,” said Minister Chasi.
He said dragging each other to court was a waste of resources as a lot of money was being spent on legal fees.
“After this meeting we need to tour the cooling towers to see the state of the infrastructure and as residents if you decide whether or not we demolish the towers.”
During the tour of the towers it was observed that the two cooling towers in question had developed cracks.
Earlier in his presentation at the meeting, ZPC general manager for plant refurbishment Engineer Fannie Mavhondo explained why the two cooling towers had to be demolished.
He said the other four cooling towers have to be refurbished because the plant had outlived its lifespan.
Eng Mavhondo said repowering of the thermal power station, which was producing 30 megawatts will improve generation to 90MW. — @okazunga