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UPDATE 1-Zambian power firm Zesco says electricity deficit growing

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LUSAKA, March 13 (Reuters) - Zambia's power supply deficit has grown by nearly 20% since September, state power utility Zesco said on Friday, despite massive price hikes and government fastracking support for green energy projects to fight drought-induced electricity shortages.

Zesco's Director of Corporate Services Patrick Mwila told a media briefing the electricity deficit had grown to 810 megawatts (MW) from a 690 MW gap in September.

The senior executive said a deal to import 300 MW from South Africa's struggling power utility Eskom had expired and would not be renewed.

Zesco was now relying on short-term power imports from the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) to plug the deficit, he said.

Mining companies including First Quantum Minerals, Barrick Gold Corp and Glencore are among Zambia's biggest power users. They have not faced rationing as a result of the shortfall.

As of March 12 the water level at the Kariba dam, Zambia's biggest single generating facility, was 12% full, compared with 43% at the same time last year and an ideal capacity of 69%, Mwila said.

Zesco has already used 25% of the water that it was allocated for power generation this year by the Zambezi River Authority, which manages the river on behalf of Zambia and Zimbabwe, he said.

"It is important that the water resource is prudently managed to guarantee power generation," Zesco's director for power generation Fidelis Mubiana said at the same briefing. Mubiana said several expatriates from a Chinese firm building a new 750 MW power station had not returned from holiday due to the coronavirus, but that that was unlikely to affect the project. (Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Jan Harvey)

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