GIANT sugar producer, Tongaat Huletts plans to establish two 5MW solar plants at its Triangle and Hippo Valley Estates in the Lowveld, Chiredzi.
The sugar company runs a 39MW power plant which powers most of its operations and establishments during the sugar harvesting and crushing season, while banking 5MW into the national grid with the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority to power its irrigation activities during the off season.

In an interview with New Ziana, Tongaat Huletts chief executive, Tendai Masawi said the sugar company wanted to take advantage of the abundant sunshine in the hot and arid Lowveld by harnessing solar energy to help power its operations. “We have agreed that we want to put a solar; two solar projects to feed both Triangle and Hippo, 5MW each. Discussions are at an advanced stage. Approval has been sought, MoUs (Memorandum of Understanding) have been signed and we are discussing,” he said.

“We feel that we have a lot of sunshine in this region, we will be able to tap on that and produce something that is reasonable to keep us going particularly when we are not crushing and are not generating our own electricity.” “As Tongaat, we bank into the grid 5MW from our Hippo Valley plant. We generate using our bagasse, we bank into the grid 5MW when we are crushing and then off season we get that from Zesa for use for irrigation.”

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On exports, he said the company uses revenue from the exports for retooling of its milling plants and plans to pump US$20 million into the exercise annually for the next five years. Masawi said while the recently introduced sugar tax affects beverage manufacturers, it cascades to the sugar producer as the beverage manufacturers reduce their sugar intake.

“It does not come straight to us but it directly affects us in a way, off take reduces because some manufacturers will opt for various brands, I won’t say who but others will use artificial sweeteners to use in their sugar,” he said. “But we try by all means to balance the supply issue by looking for other alternative means, maximizing sales on the domestic markets and also options of doing other by products ourselves.”

The company also channels some of its produce towards the production of ethanol at its 40 million litre plant. This year, the company plans to produce between 395 000 tonnes and 400 000 tonnes of sugar, a significant increase from the 370 000t produced last year.

The two mills at Triangle and Hippo Valley have a total installed capacity to produced 600 000t of sugar annually.