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Cahora Bassa spoiled for choice

12 January 2012 – When it was built in the 1970s by the Portuguese government, the 2,075 MW Cahora Bassa hydroelectric facility in Mozambique was widely regarded as a white elephant. Portugal sold its controlling stake in the facility to the Mozambique government in 2007 and today Hidroelectrica de Cahora Bassa (HCB), the company that operates Cahora Bassa on the Zambezi River in Tete province, is spoiled for choice in terms of selecting customers for its electricity output.

With power shortages in Southern Africa, and South Africa’s generation capacity under severe strain, Zambia, Malawi and Swaziland have all expressed a desire to buy electricity from HCB, while Zimbabwe and South Africa want their quotas increased.

Mozambique’s national electricity company EDM wants to increase its Cahora Bassa quota from 400 MW to 500 MW, which would require a reduction of supply of supply to one of HCB’s other major clients, Eskom of South Africa or Zesa of Zimbabwe.

Longer term plans do exist to expand power generating capacity at Cahora Bassa to an installed 3,220 MW. The expansion project would cost an estimated US$1 billion, and would likely be funded by the project company and other private investors. The expansion will most likely be built in the north-central part of the Cahora Bassa dam. At the moment, power is being generated only at southern part of the dam.

Most of the additional capacity will supply Mozambique’s power needs, but power will also be exported to other countries in the region. Total potential of the Cahora Bassa water resource is estimated at about 12 GW.