Lag in Transmission Lines Compels Systematic Power Shedding by EEPCo

EEPC Transmission Line in Ethiopia
EEPC Transmission Line in Ethiopia

Despite recent deluges of heavy rain, rivers roaring with water, and dams filling up, the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) is still unable to deliver power to its clients across the country in an uninterrupted and sustainable way.

Almost all of the 10 dams, which the corporation operates, are nearly full or already up to their brims, with the exception of Tekeze. These dams have a combined generate capacity of 1,754MW, which is supposedly above the current national demand for electric power. Yet, erratic power interruptions, particularly during peak hours in the mornings and evenings, remain in place, which is a practice that experts say is part of the corporation’s systematic power shedding.

Senior managers at the EEPCo and top officials in the government administration thought they had the power shortage problem behind them when the 7.1 billion Br Tana Beles Hydropower Plant came online, the third hydropower plant inaugurated during the 2009/10 budget year, following the launch of Tekeze Hydropower Plant (300MW) in November 2009, in Tigray Regional State, and Gilgel Gibe II (420MW), in January 2010, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples (SNNP) Regional State.

However, due to the corporation’s inability to transmit and distribute the power they currently produce, it has been forced to utilise a systematic power shedding scheme, according to knowledgeable sources.

“There is hardly any issue with the ability to generate [electricity],” an expert in the power generation sector told Fortune.

The latest interruptions are largely due to the ageing, inadequate, outdated transmission lines that the EEPCo uses in the grid, Fortune learnt.

One glaring case is a 400kV transmission line stretching from the Tana Beles Dam to a substation that has not been completed, despite plans to do so before the rainy season, in Gefersa, Oromia Special Zone, on the outskirts of Addis Abeba.

Located on the shores of Lake Tana, Tana Beles is the largest operating hydropower plant in Ethiopia as of yet, inaugurated in May 2010, with a generating capacity of 460MW. The water gushes through its 26km tunnel and falls 275 metres down onto four turbines, each with a capacity to generate 115MW. The water then flows out of the plant and is further used for irrigation purposes.

Yet the power it is generating is not reaching its intended recipients across the country.

“This is the first time in the EEPCo’s history that a dam has been completed long before the transmission lines,” senior managers in the power generation and construction department of the EEPCo confirmed.

Contracted to the Chinese Shanghai Electric Corporation, along with two local companies, this transmission line was originally scheduled for completion in June 2010. The 227km long transmission line is designed to pass through Bahir Dar, Debre Markos (both in the Amhara Regional State) and Sululta in the Oromia Special Zone, before it winds up in Gefersa to increase the distribution of power supplied to Addis Abeba and the surrounding areas. Until a few months ago, total the area consumed 40pc of the nearly 4,000GWh of national production.

However, the erection of poles for the transmission lines has so far only made it to Sululta, a township on the north-western outskirts of Addis Abeba. Their cables, however, have not even made it that far, reaching just short of Muke Turi, Oromia Regional State, 75km from the capital. Chinese experts and local labourers are working along the main highway, with different teams deployed to do foundation, construction, and cabling work.

“We have been working on this for over a year and a half,” Brehanu, 23, a resident of Sululta, told Fortune last week.

He was working on the building of one of the 455 terminals at a place 53km from Sululta.

He started work with the Chinese contractor as a foreman, Brehanu told Fortune. The team he belongs to, comprising of Chinese and Ethiopians who communicate in a hybrid of Mandarin and Amharic, has been working daily, including holidays.

Earning a wage of 25 Br per day, labourers and their Chinese supervisors only pause when the rains are very hard, which has been fairly frequent in recent weeks. Despite the heavy rains, the contractors are frantically working to finish the project.

With the cables stopped short of Muke Turi, the EEPCo resorted to connecting the plant to the national grid by redirecting it through an existing 230kV line in Bahir Dar, almost half the voltage that Tana Beles produces.

“This cascading of power causes constraints in the transmission and distribution of the available power,” a senior official at the EEPCo, told Fortune. “The problem has occurred because of the delay in the design and erection of the transmission lines.”

This has been a major headache for managers at the EEPCo, who had to utilise massive power shedding schemes last year. At the height of these schemes, households were only getting power every other day with factories forced to use their own generators, getting power from the EEPCo only during off-peak hours. Undeclared power shedding for factories is still enforced by the EEPCo, sources disclosed.

The last stretch of the construction of the transmission poles and installation of cable lines is expected to be completed by the end of October, transmitting the full power generation capacity of the Tana Beles Plant to Addis Abeba and its surrounding areas, according to managers in the power generation and construction department.

However, this is not the only reason for the frequent power interruptions that have been occurring in the capital during the past month, according to another manager in the distribution department of the EEPCo.

“The rainy season has been particularly hard, causing many trees to fall on transmission lines, knocking down some of the old poles,” the distribution manager explained. “The laying of new underground and overhead cables is another reason, but we announced the time and date when power will be interrupted to connect these cables to the main lines” on FM radio stations.

There are additional dams on the EEPCo’s drawing board, such as Amertinesh, a 1.6 billion Br project to be completed in 2010/11; Gilgel Gibe III, a 17.6 billion Br project, the biggest of all and about 35pc completed; and Ashegoda Wind Power Farm, a 2.3 billion Br project.

The five-year government economic plan that was announced last week projected the power generation capacity of Ethiopia to reach 8,000MW by 2015.

With the expansion comes a renewed challenge for the EEPCo to upgrade the existing transmission lines and to build new ones, experts cautioned.

The EEPCo plans to complete the construction of the substations in Bahir Dar, Debre Markos, and Sululta, with a capacity to transform the 400kV electric power generated by Tana Beles to industrial and household levels, as well as the installation of the transmission cable lines between them by the inauguration of the Tana Beles Power Station.

By Hailu Teklehaimanot
Fortune Staff Writer