A study shows that the Swaziland Electricity Company (SEC) is the most expensive power utility in the SADC region.
The average tariff figures for power utilities among SADC countries, released last month by the Southern African Power Pool, showed that SEC charges 11.5 US cents per Kilowatt hour (kWh) higher than other countries in the region.
This is by far the highest compared to other countries within the region, surpassing Zimbabwe’s ZESA at 83 US cents per kWh and Namibia’s NamPower at 75 US cents per kWh. (NamPower has since increased its tariffs by 17.2 percent effective 1 July.)
The study was carried out in May and was based on data compiled before SEC increased its tariffs by eight percent on the 28th of the same month.
Sikhumbuzo Tsabedze, in charge of customer service at SEC, said the study, however, failed to take into account some factors such as the domestic-generation capacity.
“The countries we are compared to have a larger domestic generation capacity than SEC. So, whatever power they import will be less than what we import.
“Countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Lesotho, for instance, have larger hydropower plants,” said Tsabedze.
More imported power and less domestic generation, as in the case of Swaziland, requires tariff adjustments to cater for exporter’s fees and domestic charges for distributing power.
Tsabedze also said the study did not take into account the fact that the governments of other countries provided subsidies to their power utility companies.
SEC no longer gets a subsidy.
In Botswana, the government last year provided the Botswana Power Corporation with a subsidy worth around R500m.
Further, Botswana is venturing into local thermal power generation.
Other countries - such as Namibia, Lesotho and Zambia - have been able to keep their charges lower because they have big power plants.
Swaziland does not have a single major power plant and relies heavily on Eskom in South Africa.
SEC generates no more than 10 percent of the national electricity needs – national demand of 200MW at peak periods ‑ through its hydropower stations, but this is subject to seasonal considerations.
The dry, winter season means low dam levels and, therefore, reduced hydropower output.
Swaziland’s Minister of Natural Resources and Energy, Princess Tsandzile, recently revealed that the government’s Minerals Board was looking for a company to conduct coal exploration with a view to establishing a thermal power plant.
SEC’s Tsabedze said: “It is difficult to comment on the time it will take before we attain self-sufficiency. In the case of the thermal project, we continue to engage all concerned parties and are hopeful that we will start soon, given the assistance we are getting, particularly from government.”
Tsabedze added that SEC continued to explore hydro-generation options that could take the country to a level of self-sufficiency.
Meanwhile, the Consumer Association is shocked by the findings of tariffs study.
Bongani Mdluli, the association’s chairman, said it was hard to believe that a small country like Swaziland could emerge as one where consumers were charged the most.
“If, indeed, the situation of the tariffs is as the way the study portrays, it makes it seem as if there is more emphasis on profit making than service delivery.
“This is a challenge for the Swaziland Energy Regulatory Authority.
They must take a leading role to see to it that consumers are not charged exorbitantly,” said Mdluli.
He urged legislators to take note of the study and enact laws that will protect clients, saying consumers were already overburdened with Value Added Tax, among other things, which could all lead to poverty.