24 May 2013 – Lesotho and South Africa have in principle agreed upon the R12 billion second phase of the Lesotho Highlands water project. It will boost water supplies to South Africa and generate hydroelectric electricity.  

The expansion will increase supply from Lesotho Highlands to South Africa to 45.5 cubic meters of water a second, an increase from the current 24.6 cubic meters per second. The project is scheduled to be completed by August 2020.

South Africa will bear the full R12 billion cost of the project. The additional water supply from Lesotho is earmarked for two major nodal developments planned for Lephalale near Vryburg, where new mines are being established, and for strategic infrastructure projects planned for Steelpoort.

The project involves the construction by South Africa of the Polihali dam and connecting tunnels. Lesotho will build another new dam near Polihali and both dams will feed the existing Katse dam, which will supply South Africa. The hydropower will be generated for Lesotho from these three dams.

With its hydroelectric potential, Lesotho could contribute to the sub-region’s plans for renewable energy. Lesotho itself has a five year electricity development plan, whereby it hopes to have least 35% of its population having access to electricity by 2015 and 40% by 2020. At the moment the number stands at just 20%, and power is imported from Mozambique and South Africa at peak times to supplement domestic generation of 72 MW. This 72 MW comes from the Muela hydroelectric facility that resulted from the first phase of the Lesotho Highlands water project.

Lesotho’s development plan says investment should be mobilised to tap the established potential of the 1,000 MW that can be generated through hydropower, though details related to cost and financing, have yet to be worked out.

“If we are peaking at 132 MW and now we suddenly put 1,000MW into the stream, we’ll have at least 800 MW to export,” Moeketsi Majoro, Lesotho’s development planning minister says. “But a lot of engineering and geotechnical studies still need to be undertaken.”

A far more ambitious plan that has been talked about related to Lesotho is for the development of a hybrid plant that would generate 6,000 MW of wind power and 4,000 MW of hydropower at a cost of about US$15 billion. The previous government of Lesotho signed a deal with Harrison & White, a South African construction company, in 2011 to develop the scheme.