The four major copper mines on the Copperbelt-Roan Antelope, Rhokana, Mufulira and Nchanga had individual coal fired power stations using coal from Wankie. Later, the four mines decided to have their individual coal fired power stations interconnected with an installed capacity of 165 MW through transmission lines and the Rhodesia Congo Border Power Company was born, which was owned equally by Anglo American Corporation and by Rhodesia (it became Roan after independence) Selection Trust.
Between 1956 and the early 1960s the shortfall in electricity demand was imported from the Belgian Congo through the construction of the then longest 220 kV transmission line in Southern Africa, a distance of 321 miles from the source at the Le Marinel Power Station, on the Lualaba River, the Southern part of the Congo to Kitwe, Northern Rhodesia, where it was connected to the Rhodesia Congo Border Power Company line. The USA Government loaned $22.4 million to the Rhodesia Congo Border Power Corporation for the construction of the line. The Queen Mother commissioned the Kariba Dam in 1960 and her visit was extended to Mufulira where she also commissioned the Mufulira West Shaft which was constructed with labour from Swaziland or Lesotho and the workers used to wear blankets and were, therefore, known as “bakabulangeti”.
I remember as an eleven year-old in 1960 lining the road leading to Mufulira West waving a miniature union jack to welcome the Queen Mother and at the end we were given ice creams, my first taste of ice cream. The Rhodesia Congo Border Power Company abandoned its thermal power plants and stopped importing power from the Belgian Congo after the Queen Mother commissioned the Kariba Hydropower project and started buying power from CAPCO, Central African Power Corporation.
In 1964, it became known as the Copperbelt Power Company (CPC) and with the ‘Zambianization’ drive of the 1980s, CPC became part of the mining conglomerate, Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM), as the Power Division in 1982. The Copperbelt Energy Company (CEC), was the Power Division of ZCCM. It was sold separately from the mines, ZCCM, which were also privatized.
Cinergy Global Power of the United States of America and National Grid of the United Kingdom, jointly acquired a controlling stake of 77% in the Company; making it Sub-Saharan Africa’s first electric utility privatization. Subsequently, in 2006, the two investors sold of their shares.
The company purchases electricity from ZESCO and retails it to copper mining companies. In 2003, revision of the Electricity Act, Cap 433 allowed the participation of private companies, which have subsequently begun selling electricity to ZESCO, generated by their own small power stations.
Since the government of the day, MMD to be specific, did not sell ZESCO , it would have been logical to align the Power Division of ZCCM to ZESCO but apparently the people responsible for privatization, perhaps HH, decided to sell it separately. Because HH was responsible for privatization and hence the birth of CEC this is why some people suspect CEC to be funding UPND and that is why the PF has told ZESCO not to renew the bulk supply agreement.
CEC owns and operates an electricity transmission network in the Copperbelt area with 246 km of 220kV power lines and 678 km of 66kV lines. The company purchases electricity from ZESCO, the national power utility, and sells this across its transmission network to 8 Zambian mining customers with a combined demand of 520MW. In 2014 CEC supplied 4,208GWh of electricity to its customers which was 29% of Zambia’s total generation of 14,453GWh. CEC also operates 6 gas turbine generators at Luano, Maclaren, Kankoyo and Bancroft for emergency power supply to its mine customers with a total installed capacity of 80MW. It is not clear to me whether ZESCO has its own transmission lines to the mines. CEC also owns the Zambian portion of the Zambia – DRC 220kV interconnector line which has a capacity of 250MW and supplies electricity to mining customers in the Katanga Province. The company is developing the 40MW Kabompo Gorge hydropower project on the Kabompo river in the North-Western Province of Zambia.
Author Ronald Lwamba Former Senior Manager, Civil Engineering, ZESCO