Lobbyists challenge US$3bn Sengwa thermal power deal

ENVIRONMENTALISTS are opposing a plan by Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed miner RioZim to build a US$3 billion coal-fired 2 100-megawatt Sengwa power station in view of the potential impact on the environment and local community.

Evans Mathanda/Tinashe Kairiza

They have also raised concern over the project’s likely impact on Lake Kariba, whose water level has dwindled in recent months as a result of climate change.
The Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (Zela), a lobby group, has also demanded from RioZim proof that an environmental impact assessment (EIA) was conducted for the power station whose construction is set to commence this year after being on the cards since the early 1990s.

Joyce Chapungu, the public relations officer of the Environmental Management Agency, yesterday told the Zimbabwe Independent that the state-run agency has not yet received any EIA submissions from RioZim, therefore no approval has been granted.

“Since you rightfully indicated, it’s a project still under the planning phase and has not yet commenced. Environmental impact of this particular project will be determined through the EIA process. However, just from a generic understanding any coal mining operations and thermal power production are associated with acid mine drainage, land scarification, air pollution from dust as well as from the thermal power station,” Chapungu said.

Zela’s demands — directed at RioZim and contained in correspondence seen by this newspaper — were also communicated to the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera), the Ministry of Environment and Climate and the Environmental Management Authority (Ema). The environmental lobby group expressed concern over the potentially catastrophic impact of the multi-billion-dollar project on the environment, community and Lake Kariba.

Sengwa power station is envisaged to draw water from the world’s largest man-made lake, which also supplies the Kariba Hydro Power Station.Under the first phase of RioZim’s Sengwa project, Power Construction Corp, also known as PowerChina, will install a 700-megawatt unit at a cost of US$1,2 billion. Construction company China Gezhouba Group Corporation is the mandated finance lead arranger, tasked with the primary responsibility of mobilising funds for the mega project.

Zela executive director Mutuso Dhliwayo last week wrote to the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, highlighting the potential dangers of the multi-billion-dollar project to the environment and the climate, querying whether the miner had been given the greenlight to build the thermal power plant by the authorities.

“It has come to our attention that there is a proposed thermal power station project in Sengwa, Gokwe. Zimbabwe Rio Energy intends to build a 2 100-Megawatt power plant with China Gezhouba Group Corp (CGGC) at an estimated cost of US$3 billion. Further, the CGGC will assist with the project development and help in fundraising,” Dhliwayo wrote on May 7.

“Please note that in terms of section 62 of the Constitution as read with section 4 of the Environmental Management Act we have a right to access to information which is in your possession relating to this project. Further, in terms of section 73 of the Constitution our environment has to be protected for present and future generations.

“In particular, we would like to find out the following: Whether or not the companies herein have a permit or special grant to conduct the project? How big is the area to be mined? Are there people who are going to be relocated? What is the effect of the proposed mining project on the already overstretched Kariba water,” he added.

The Independent first sent questions to RioZim chief executive Bheki Nkomo on Wednesday, but he did not respond to them.
However, company board chairperson Caleb Dengu in an interview yesterday said an environmental impact assessment (EIA) was conducted, but needed to be reviewed from “time to time”.

He said: “We are working on the project but we have a lot of resistance from environmentalists. But we have to use our coal. But definitely you cannot do such a project without the EIA. It was done, of course, but it needs to be updated from time to time. You do not get a licence to build a power station without an EIA. We have all sorts of people opposed to this project for their own agendas. We cannot develop without power. There are coal power plants in the US, UK and India. We are not oblivious to the need to get clean energy.”

A source close to the multi-billion-dollar project told the Independent that “the noise from environmentalists was unsettling to potential financiers of the thermal power station”.

Prior to writing the letter to the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development, the environmental lobby group had also written to EMA, querying whether the miner had undertaken an EIA. “In particular we would like to find out the following: Whether or not the companies herein have conducted an Environmental Impact Assessment exercise and there is possession of an EIA certificate? Whether or not the EIA speaks to socio-economic impacts of the project,” the letter dated April 7 reads.

“Whether or not the EIA speaks to the climate change implications of the project? What are the mitigatory measures to these impacts? How will air pollution be tracked and measured?”

When asked to comment on the queries raised by Zela, Zera spokesperson Gladman Njanji said: “Let me reflect on the questions you have raised.”
At the time of going to print he had not yet responded.