‘Malawi needs real energy solutions’

In August, Malawi adopted a new energy policy in line with sustainable development goals to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030. In this interview with our staff writer JAMES CHAVULA, Community Energy Malawi executive director Edgar Bayani unpacks the new blueprint.

What is your take on the new policy?

We are happy that finally we have a new energy policy gazetted in August 2018. It is good for the country and the stakeholders in the energy sector. The new policy reflects on the emerging issues and overarching policies in energy sector like SE4All [Sustainable Energy for All] and Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] which were not adequately outlined in the outdated policy.

It also brings in new reforms on; restructuring of Rural Electrification Fund, decentralisation of energy management, financing of renewable energy and mainstreaming of cross cutting issues like gender and environmental management. It also adopts most of the recommendations by stakeholders and promotes inclusivity in planning and implementation of energy activities.

It also provides for the formation of a Renewable Energy Partnership Group that will bring together policy makers, private sector, donor community and civil society players to advance [renewable energy] RE agenda

Does it adequately address national needs?

Yes it does to a larger extent. It adopted most of the issues that stakeholders, including Community Energy Malawi, the Civil Society Platform on Sustainable Energy for All and the Green and Inclusive Energy Partnership raised. We, of course, wanted more adoption of low carbon pathways through emphasis on renewable energy than fossil-based energy in the Energy Mix but still more government is keen on coal fired plant for example and fossil fuels are still high on the agenda. Nevertheless, compared to the 2003 policy, this has taken care of our needs. But policy-making and policy-practice are different things. We now need action on the ground to realise the ambitious targets of the policy.

On the sustainable energy front, what do you expect in the 2019 manifestoes of political parties?

We expect the manifestoes to reflect the spirit of SDG 7 which is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. We expect them to have practical steps and solutions on how to operationalise this SDG by integrating the Malawi Energy Policy, the MDGS III and the other Malawi development priorities.

With the new Energy Policy in place, the manifestoes have a starting point and they should concretise actions on how to realise the goals of the policy. For example; how soon will they restructure the Rural Electrification Fund to accommodate other players? How will they eliminate corruption at Egenco and Escom to make these institutions more efficient? How will they ensure that off grid communities are connected and have energy enough to spur their productive potential? How will women and girls as chief energy users/managers be trained and integrated in the energy value chain? How will they promote research and development to bring new innovations in renewable energy as well as support the exploitation of the huge renewable energy potential in the country? How will they support the implementation of sustainable decentralised energy models that will make people in Ibabala or Sofwe in Chitipa to be adding value on their livestock or coffee? Seriously, we need real solutions and not just empty rhetoric.

Energy is the golden thread that connects all other sectors. Rural growth centres, for example, will not be effective without thinking about energy provision. Extending the grid is not the only solution and must be considered alongside  decentralised initiatives.

Recently some Ambassadors were quoted in this paper talking about increasing electricity tariffs..what is your take? Is the tarrif increase justifiable?

We have the Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority which is mandated by an Act of Parliament to regulate the industry. They do consultations with the consumers and also consider several parameters before effecting adjustments. I think Mera does a good job in justifying such adjustments taking into consideration the several factors that come into play. We appreciate such commentaries by other people like ambassadors on issues like energy but at the end of the day, it is the ordinary citizen in Mayaka, Milepa, Kapiri, Mzenga or Nthalire who pay the tariff; hence, the need to properly assess the situation.

As a country do we have the potential to do away with incessant blackouts?

Yes. Malawi has huge renewable energy potential in solar, biogas from municipal and industrial waste, wind, geothermal and hydro. All we need is to put our house in order by standing above self-interests, eliminate corruption in all its forms and implement the energy policies and plans we have laid down in earnest.  As I have indicated in an earlier question on manifestos, it is all about political will and rallying the stakeholders around the vision. n

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