Big export plans for 6GW wind project

LESOTHO: Ambitious plans by the Lesotho Highlands Power Project (LHPP) to supply electricity and water to neighbouring South Africa could dwarf the latter's independent power-producer programme for up to 1.85GW of wind energy announced earlier this year.

The LHPP aims to install up to 6GW of wind energy and 4GW of pumped-storage hydro capacity in Lesotho's Maluti Mountains over the next 10-15 years at a cost of around $15 billion. If it came to fruition, the project would transform this small, mountainous kingdom. At present, Lesotho's only domestic power source is a 72MW hydro plant; it imports around 20% of its electricity from South Africa.

Breeze Power, a joint venture between South Africa's diversified industrial group Harrison & White and the Lesotho government, is behind the LHPP. Phase one consists of a 150MW wind-power plant, funded up to 80% by loans from unnamed Chinese institutions. Once feasibility studies are completed on the various sites, Breeze Power will apply for the necessary permits and site approvals.

Breeze Power has signed an agreement with China Ming Yang Wind Power Group to act as primary turbine supplier, including building manufacturing facilities in Lesotho and South Africa, according to reports in the local media. Ming Yang confirmed signing a memorandum of understanding with Breeze Power but declined to give further details.

"Harrison & White is committed to the localisation of facilities wherever possible for the wind farm project," said Lee-Ann Louverdis, the company's communications director. Activities in Lesotho and South Africa "will focus on manufacturing facilities, turbine housings, final assembly, and mouldings and castings", she said. "Investigation is under way for further facilities for the manufacture of other components." The location of these facilities is under review.

A big question mark remains over securing a power purchase agreement with Eskom, South Africa's hard-up utility. Louverdis said Breeze Power was working on it, but could not give details until all business cases and feasibility options have been finalised. Options for upgrading the transmission grid to South Africa are also being considered. While the network could support the first 150MW, the rest would need major investment.

Construction of phase one could start next year, for commissioning in 2013. If so, the race will be on with a 25-35MW project at Letseng-La-Terai set to be Lesotho's first operating wind power plant.

South African consultancy NETGroup is developing Letseng in partnership with Lesotho's Powerdev Group. The parties hope they will soon conclude an offtake agreement to secure an outlet for the wind farm's generation with the Lesotho Electricity Company. Financial close is due early next year, to start construction in March.