Polihali Dam construction to continue: LHDA

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Pascalinah Kabi

THE Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) says it is not going to give in to the demands of the Youth Leagues Forum of Lesotho on the cancellation of construction of Polihali Dam in Mokhotlong.

Instead, the authority says it remains unshaken and will continue to oversee the construction of the Polihali Dam under Phase II of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LWHP) despite calls that government must immediately kick-start processes of cancelling the project.

The forum recently called on the government to immediately start processes that will lead to the cancellation of the construction of Polihali Dam, arguing that it is not in the best interest of Lesotho both economically and socially.

The forum also argued that it is criminal to build the Polihali Dam before the construction of a hydropower station — a component that should not be left out as stipulated in Article 4 (1) of the 1986 Treaty.

The forum said this last week during ongoing discussions emanating from a March 2014 petition it submitted to the Senate’s Petitions Committee.

While the forum argues that the project is an opportunity of a lifetime for Lesotho because the country would have the cheapest source of hydroelectric power generation, they say it is worrisome that the hydropower generation component of the LHWP Phase II has been neglected or abandoned.

There have been several meetings between the Petitions’ Committee, representatives of the Youth Leagues Forum of Lesotho and representatives from the Ministry of Water and Lesotho Highlands Water Commission.

The forum’s board member Rabele Makakole said the electricity generation component, as stipulated in the treaty, had been abandoned by taking the project to Polihali instead of the initial plan to have it constructed in Mashai in Thaba-Tseka.

Mr Makakole suggested that Lesotho should kick-start processes of abandoning the Polihali project by getting a reviewed and current water demand curve of South Africa as a matter of urgency.

However, this week the LHDA chief executive officer, Refiloe Tlali, told the media that the authority is going ahead with the construction of Polihali and that they are not going to be derailed by the forum which “does not represent the entire youth of Lesotho”.

Ms Tlali said there were legal processes that needed to be followed before they could stop the ongoing works in Mokhotlong and they were not going to cancel the construction of Polihali and wait for those processes to be completed.

“We cannot stop people from voicing their opinions and those opinions do not represent all the youth of Lesotho or the Polihali people that are being affected by this project,” Ms Tlali said.

She said suggesting that the construction of the dam should be stopped to allow renegotiation to continue was the same as suggesting that the country should stop implementing certain legal frameworks while they are being repealed or amended.

Ms Tlali said the move would be wrong because there can never be a vacuum in law and that while the processes of amending or repealing laws are being followed, that same law should continue to be used as is until the processes of repealing or amending it have been completed.

“In that same breath, there are certain processes that should be followed to start renegotiating the treaty and while those processes are being followed, we will continue with the construction of the dam. We cannot stop the construction of the dam,” Ms Tlali said.

She also said that it was wrong of the Youth Leagues Forum of Lesotho and other experts to suggest that the hydropower component had been abandoned in Phase II.

She said there were ongoing feasibility studies that would be completed at the end of next month and that the results would inform the area in which the hydropower station will be built.

Ms Tlali however, warned that the timely completion of the hydropower station was entirely dependent on the availability of funds from the government of Lesotho. The government is responsible for the funding of the hydropower station while the South African government foots bills for the water component as per the 1986 treaty.

“It is the responsibility of the government of Lesotho to avail funds for the electricity component but our plans to have both components starting to operate on the same day, we want to ensure the that same day that we start to transfer water to South Africa will be the same when we start supplying electricity to Lesotho but that is all dependent on the availability of funds from the government,” Ms Tlali said.

In the case where the funds are not immediately available and the water transfer is launched in 2026, Ms Tlali said the electricity component would still be implemented; likening the situation to that of Phase I project where the water and electricity components were not launched the same day.

There are suggestions that the LHDA was forced to undertake the feasibility study for the electricity component after realising that Basotho were not happy that the component was being left behind.

Polihali Divisional Manager Tente Tente however, said the feasibility study was carried out at the same time as that of water but they were forced to undertake another one due to challenges in the hydropower component feasibility study.

“When you do a feasibility study, you have two possible outcomes of being positive and not so positive. Under the phase two, feasibility studies for both components were carried out at the same time. The water feasibility study yielded desired the outcome, meaning that we had to implement without further studies.

“But that did not happen with the electricity component but we need to understand that the electricity component is still an integral part of this Phase II. What I am going to say is a bit technical but there is no better way to explain (it). Research shows that Lesotho needs 800 gigawatt hours but currently Muela Hydropower Station generates 500 gigawatt hours and that there is a 300 (gigawatt hours) shortfall annually.

“So when Polihali water passes through ‘Muela, there will be a further generation of 700 gigawatt hours annually. This means an increase in electricity generation and there will only be a 100 (gigawatt hours) shortfall. To cover the shortfall and ensure that an electricity component is catered for, there is an ongoing feasibility study. We had to do in-depth feasibility study after the first study did not yield positive results,” Mr Tente said.

He said that the ongoing feasibility study was looking into three possibly hydropower stations of Oxbow, Senqu B and Senqu D. He said Oxbow was anticipated to generate 90 megawatts, Senqu B 82 megawatts while Senqu D would possibly generate 30 megawatts.

He said the authority will advise itself on the best location of the hydropower station. Commenting on the submissions of Lesotho’s technical advisor to LHWC, Masupha Sole and Chief Delegate Mzamo Lephoma before the Senate Petitions Committee last week, Mr Tente said they were not really differing.

“They were saying the same thing that we are saying that the feasibility study for the water component came earlier while the hydropower component is behind but when you look at our plans, when everything else is done, we are hoping that the two components will be launched on the same day in 2026,” Mr Tente said.

Mr Sole last week told the Senate that “…the purpose of the project is for Lesotho to transfer water to South Africa through electricity generation and Polihali does not have that component”.

“Kobong came as an afterthought and it had failed. I have heard people saying that the electricity component has been deferred and it is wrong to say that is because it is a disadvantage to Lesotho, it has simply failed. There is no electricity component in this Phase II,” Mr Sole said.

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