In Zambia, the need for energy has been steadily growing but this has unfortunately not been met with the necessary investment to satisfy this demand.Zambia’s energy demands revolve around petroleum and hydro electric power which has until recently been sufficient to drive the wheels of development.
Zesco has been the sole provider of electric energy while the petroleum sector has been liberalised since inception.
Like any other sector, the energy sector requires a regulator to guard against excess, abuse and sheer negligence.
The Energy Regulation Board (ERB) is this vanguard of the consumer’s interest and has since its inception in 1995 strived to regulate the energy sector in a transparent and fair manner
It is an independent agency established by law to regulate all undertakings in the sector which mainly comprise of electricity, petroleum, coal and solar companies
The ERB regulates through the issuance of licenses which stipulate the various conditions under which the licensed utilities should operate.
But despite the important task and having been in existence for 18 years, most people are still not fully aware of the mandate of the organisation and how to utilise their services.
It is against this background that the ERB has embarked on countrywide sensitisation programmes to improve the organisation’s presence especially in parts of the country where it do not have permanent offices.
This is being done through the use of a mobile office and energy focused meetings with stakeholders in the various parts of the country.
During a recent meeting held in Kapiri Mposhi, Northern region public and consumer affairs manager Davies Mupenda said getting a better understanding of the operations of power utility would help customers understand their rights and obligations
Mr Mupenda said the organisation had engaged in the nationwide sensitisation exercise to improve the consumer’s knowledge on the functions of the board adding that such meetings were also aimed at receiving complaints and concerns from consumers on the operations of their energy utilities.
He advised that consumers especially the commercial clients must take steps to ensure that production was not hampered by the continued power outages by exploring alternative sources of energy
Kapiri Mposhi District Commissioner Beatrice Sikazwe said the advancement in economic activities such as farming has significantly increased demand for electricity in the area.
Ms Sikazwe implored Zesco to ensure that the supply and quality of power in the district improved to facilitate the increased economic activity.
She said load shedding had negatively impacted on the businesses and farming communities who relied on power for production.
Ms Sikazwe said there was need to keep-up with developments in the energy sector if load shedding was to be significantly reduced.
She hailed Government for promoting the use of alternative energy sources such as solar, liquefied petroleum gas as mitigation measures against the power shortage.
“Government has reduced taxes on energy conservation equipment such as solar, generator sets, gas stoves to encourages us to use alternative energy sources,” Ms Sikazwe said.
She also hailed ERB for facilitating the meeting which was aimed at informing energy consumers and investors in the district on energy issues.
Kapiri Glass Manufacturers general manager Sunil Malik implored the regulator to ensure that supply to the area was not interrupted to facilitate the delicate process of glass production as interruptions would adversely affect the quality of glass.
Mr Malik said the US$21 million project which is envisaged to create more than 250 jobs would heavily depend on the quality of power supplied.
A representative of the business community Philemon Munthali implored the energy regulator to ensure that tariffs were cost effective and to provide consumers with service charters which would be used as a basis for presenting complaints against their energy utilities.
Zesco area manager Fitz Chikosola disclosed that the consumer base in Kapiri Mposhi had doubled with a clientele of soaring to upto 4434.
He disclosed that the proposed construction of a 40 megawatts Kapiri main substation and 66 kilowatts overhead line would significantly reduce power outages currently being experienced in the area.
“The installation of prepaid metres has also reduced the consumption of power from 6 megawatts to about 1.5 megawatts,” Mr Chikosola said.
Meanwhile, the Kabwe meeting which took place at Misuku Lodge saw a different twist with most residents praising Zesco for improved services as the incidence of load shedding in the area had drastically reduced.
The residents of Kabwe however, complained of the lack of compressed air at filling stations in the District.
John Nyawa disclosed that only one filling station in the District had compressed air with other filling stations subletting the service to independent people who were charging for the service.
He said compressed air has been a problem for a long time and the lack of punitive measures from the regulator has resulted in most filling stations not providing the service.
“The problem of air pressure is real in Kabwe, apart from one filling station which was opened recently, most filling do not have compressed air which is a big problem for us,” Mr Nyawa said.
But ERB communications officer Kwali Mfuni said all filling stations had been given a grace period within which they were expected to provide the compressed air to customers.
She said all filling stations were obliged to provide compressed air at no charge to the consumers stating that punitive measures would be meted out on those filling stations that will not comply to the directive when the grace period elapsed.
“Compressed air should be provided free of charge please report anyone who is charging for the service,” Ms Mfuni said.
And Central Province Permanent Secretary Edwidge Mutale said prospective investors who had shown interest in reopening Kabwe would require huge amounts of electricity.
Ms Mutale said Kabwe had not been spared from load shedding which had negatively impacted on the economic and social wellbeing of the district.
During the Mumbwa meeting residents wanted to know the procedure for lodging a complaint with the board as most of them feared being turned away.
ERB Community liaison officer Chipambeso Kasese said issues of low power voltage, load shedding and delayed connections must first be raised with power utilities before the regulator could intervene.
He encouraged the stakeholders to write or call their regulator if such complaints were not resolved between the two parties.
Mr Kasese also implored members of the public to avail themselves whenever the mobile office visited their area as such complaints would be noted and investigated.
During a consultative meeting on the proposed Zesco tariff hike ERB Board Chairperson George Chabwera said such fora presented an opportunity for consumers to review the operations of Zesco and whether they were getting value for their money.
Dr Chabwera urged the petitioners ensure that their voices were heard by participating meeting which required their input.
Everyone uses one form of energy or the other; therefore no one can afford to ignore the work that the ERB was doing.
With the participation of every stakeholder regardless of size, ERB can indeed ensure a Zambia with universal access to reliable, safe and affordable energy products and services.
– Times of Zambia