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ENERGY starved Zimbabwe signed a $1.5billion deal with China's Sinohydro on Friday for a project to boost power generation at the Hwange coal-fired power station.

Energy Minister Dzikamayi Mavhaire said the addition of two new units at Hwange "will be a huge step in resolving the current power deficit and ease load-shedding. Everyone should see the light — not in the metaphorical sense but in real sense," he said.

Mavhaire said the project at Hwange would take 42 months to complete at a cost of $1.174bn, with the remainder going to administrative costs.

On completion the project would add 600 megawatts (MW) to the national grid, expanding current generating capacity by 50%.

China's Export-Import Bank will provide a loan for the project, 80% of it at concessionary rates and 20% at commercial rates.

Sinohydro was awarded the tender last year after another Chinese company failed to complete the contract. The tender was initially awarded to China Machinery and Engineering Company.

Sinohydro's vice-president for Africa, Wang Xinhuai, pledged to "execute the contract strictly and deliver the project with high quality".

Zimbabwe suffers frequent power shortages. This causes the power utility to resort to load shedding, cutting supplies to some parts of the country for about eight hours a day.

The Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority has tightened the rationing in recent weeks as it battles serious shortages, forcing some parts of the country to go without electricity for up to 18 hours a day.

Frequent breakdowns of Zimbabwe's ageing power stations mean the country suffers perennial power shortages.

The country produces an average of 1,200MW against a peak demand of 2,200MW and relies on imports to supplement its production.

Last month Zimbabwe launched a $533m project with Sinohydro to scale up electricity generation at another of its major plants, the Kariba hydroelectric power station. - afp

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