Hwange coal power station expansion contradicts Zimbabwe’s Climate Policy

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Zimbabwe’s President Mr. Emmerson Mnangagwa recently announced that his administration had acquired $1 billion funding from China for the expansion of the Hwange Thermal Power Station. Mr. Mnangagwa said when completed, the project—contracted to a Chinese firm Sino Hydro—would add 600 megawatts of electricity to the national grid, in addition to the current installed capacity of 920 megawatts.

However, while such projects are widely touted as positive, it appears the Zimbabwean government’s development drive is headed in a direction that directly contradicts the country’s Climate Policy put in place in 2016.

The $1 billion Hwange Thermal Power Station expansion project has been approved in spite of the country’s Climate Policy – a well-crafted document in which Zimbabwe states its commitment to join the international community in fighting climate change in pursuit of sustainable development, which it envisioned could only be attained through taking a low carbon pathway. The Climate Policy document clearly states, “With this Climate Policy, we seek to create a pathway towards a climate resilient and low carbon development economy in which people have enough adaptive capacity and continue to develop in harmony with the environment.”

The policy added, “Actions envisioned in this policy will safeguard the environment, sustain our society and support our economy for the years ahead.”

But considering the coal-related deals the government is entering into, the Zimbabwean government appears committed to ensuring the emission of lesser greenhouse gases only on paper as the situation on the ground tells a different story. In fact, the government appears set on accelerating coal mining and thermal power generation to capitalize on Zimbabwe’s vast proved and inferred reserves of around 30 billion metric tons scattered in over 21 deposits.

But while its wide availability and affordability makes coal an attractive energy source for Zimbabwe, coal-fired power plants are the most dangerous energy sources owing to their adverse impact on human health and the environment. The high presence of carbon, hydrogen, sulfur, particulate matter(PM) and heavy metals that accumulate in the air and on water bodies inevitably leads to severe environmental and health impacts as a result of melting, leaching, decomposition, oxidation, hydration, among other chemical reactions. Unfortunately, given the lack of adequate data about the cumulative health-based impacts of these pollutants from coal combustion, it can be difficult to assess the actual impact of coal combustion and other coal related activities on communities in coal-mining areas such as Hwange.

The Hwange community of Ingagula, a village located approximately 100 meters from Hwange Thermal Power Station, has for years borne the brunt of the coal-fired power plant. While the villagers are riled that the persistent smog from the power station has made drying clothes on the washing line a nightmare, the higher energy generation from coal set to take place a stone’s throw away from their homes when the expansion project commences, will worsen their plight.

Contacted by CNRG for comment about the Hwange Thermal Power Station expansion project and whether such projects were in line with the country’s Climate Policy, the Director of Climate Change Management at the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, Mr. Washington Zhakata, said projects that were already in the pipeline were given an operational window under the Paris Agreement until 2025, after which all other plans under development and high emitting projects will need to be greened, adding the window was only available for developing countries. Thus, according to the country’s Ministry of Environment, it was within the Paris Agreement for Zimbabwe to emit as much as it wanted to for the sake of “development” until 2025. However, a thermal plant can operate at optimal level for 25 years.

The Environmental Management Agency (EMA)’s EIA & Publicity Officer, Mr. Steady Kangata echoed Mr. Zhakata’s sentiments. He said: “We need to appreciate the fact that countries react to such developments depending on their contexts. As Zimbabwe, while we are committed to a low carbon economy, please appreciate our context. We still have energy poverty so we are expanding what we have going forward. We also aim for green, clean, renewable and sustainable energy, and we will eventually get to that stage where renewable energy will be the in-thing even here, resulting in the natural fall-off of fossil fuels. Also, appreciate the fact that today there are new smarter technologies that ensure the reduction of emissions when such projects are undertaken. Also, that project [Hwange thermal power station expansion] you are talking about will obviously be assessed by EMA through an Environmental Impact Assessment. So, measures will be taken to ensure the least damage. But the key point is, it has to happen because of our context as a country,” said Mr. Kangata.

CNRG is concerned that this power plant expansion project is just the beginning of many more coal projects to come. In 2012, former Energy minister Mr. Elton Mangoma told Parliament that China Railway International and Zimbabwe’s state power utility ZESA were planning to jointly run a coal mine that would supply a proposed 1,000 megawatts thermal power station. In September 2012, China’s Guangdong Bureau of Coal Geology (CNACG) said it proposed a budget of about US$3.5 billion for a 1,200 megawatts power station in Zimbabwe. In terms of proposed power plants, Zimbabwe is now ranked 14thin the world, having leapfrogged South Africa in 2017.

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