A 500 megawatt coal-fuelled Thermal Power Station is a non-starter four years later due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Australia-based company, Canham Mining International was granted a licence to mine anthracite coal in Eswatini, which it would use to build a 2×250 MW coal plant.
When the Eswatini Energy Regulatory Authority issued the licence, the objective was to export most of the power to South Africa and Mozambique, to revive the nearby coal mines that have been defunct for over 40 years and to empower child headed households, women and the physically challenged.
This was also part of the country’s 2020-2038 Energy Master plan, which was launched in 2018.
The investment was described as ‘coal prospecting to be completed in with full report within second quarter 2016; preliminary result reveal enough coal reserves to warrant full feasibility study laboratory tests conducted.
The plant to be established at Mpaka, Eswatini’s coal town located in the Lubombo region, was due to be commissioned in 2022, after the conducting of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which was scheduled to be completed in 2021.
However, due to the COVID-19 restrictions, it has not been possible for the Eswatini Environment Authority (EEA) to consult the over 3 000 residents of that area as another step on the assessment.
This exercise involves a series of dialogues at community level and sensitization sessions with concerns, opinions and findings before any approvals can be made.
The EIA is not only aimed at addressing issues of relocation of the people, but also the effects of proposed usage of water from the Mbuluzi river which runs from two of the four geographic regions of the country.
The Lubombo region, where the plant will be located, is in the lowveld, the driest of all vegetation regions yet it is famous for sugar cane growing and is home for the three sugar mills of Eswatini.
Concerns around the water source are that the Mbuluzi River is already over burdened as it is where water for sugar cane irrigation is sourced. An analysis made by Eswatini Climate Coalition in November 2020 was that, “The project proposes using the adjacent Mbuluzi River, which is already highly affected by intensive use by the sugar industry, as well as residents in the water-scarce lowveld. This project could easily push the Mbuluzi past its limits at the risk of all other beneficiaries of the river.”
The coalition recommended an independent environmental impact assessment to be conducted by qualified professionals focusing on water usage.
“This should also look at the risk of potential discharge and effluent from the power plant facilities (back into the river or the water table itself),” the report reads in part.