Zimbabwe’s coal cravings, a complacent route with far-reaching implications

Coal thermal power plant at Hwange Colliery, Zimbabwe
28 Apr, 2021

Written by Kennedy Nyavaya

UPDATE: This story was first published in April 2021 and we have since then learned that ICBC has pulled out of the Sengwa coal plant project, which is a good step but they are still involved in the Hwange coal project.

Apart from being disproportionately ironic, Zimbabwe’s energy production politics is fast proving to be an ill-thought hazard to citizens’ foreseeable future, yet policymakers continue to cast a blind eye.

Endowed with vast, unharnessed clean energy potential like solar, hydro, biomass, geothermal, and wind, with an enabling National Renewable Energy Plan, the economically deprived country’s infatuation with costly coal-power production is mind-boggling.

Last year, a local energy company Rio Energy Ltd inked a major deal with China Gezhouba Group Corp–a Chinese firm funded by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC)–to construct a new coal-fired power station at Sengwa in Gokwe District.

The US$ 3-billion project, whose start has been delayed by “uncertainties presented by the Covid-19 pandemic”, is one of the many fast track transactions purportedly meant to ease the country’s dire energy shortages.

It was announced at a time when the nation was recovering from a crippling energy deficit resulting in up to 18-hours of grid electricity load-shedding in 2019 as well as early last year.

However, while the Sengwa project is expected to have an output of 2800 megawatts (MW), questions emerged around the need to construct it when the country already has an installed capacity of 2300MW against the nation’s current peak grid demand of about 1700MW. 

The country will also have the Hwange Thermal Power Station expansion project worth US$ 1.5 billion, which is nearing completion. This expansion is set to increase the plant’s installed capacity of 920MW by another 600MW.

This means that, with the full utilization of already available energy sources such as Hwange Thermal Power Station and scores of licensed Independent Power Producer (IPPs), the country is capable of producing enough electricity without having to explore for more coal.

Investment in coal is not environmentally sustainable and can lead to the galloping of financial debts to China. These irrational investments will bring adverse effects like pollution, land degradation and greenhouse gas emissions which far outweigh any benefits.

As shown by living conditions in Hwange over the years, thermal energy production results in overwhelming toxic smoke that leads to many cases of respiratory ailments, including lung cancer and asthma, as well as death.

Given how coal mining has also ruined vegetation, polluted water sources among other related hazards, the government’s main plan of investing in it to gain surplus to sell to other countries is proving not to be in the people’s interests, and may even be considered a deliberate plot to silently exterminate them.

“Resources must be channeled towards community development through investing in renewable energy solutions such as biogas, solar and hydropower,” says project manager for the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change Zimbabwe (AYICC), Elizabeth Gulugulu.

“The process should be inclusive in line with Agenda 2030, which has as one of the main goals not to leave anyone behind, and [Zimbabwe’s] Vision 2030 of creating an upper-middle-income economy with a $65 billion GDP.”

Meanwhile, the heavy investment in coal production comes against a backdrop of the country’s Paris Agreement ratification in 2017, pledging to reduce emissions per capita by 33% come 2030.

“We only have nine years to meet this goal and more investments should be channeled towards renewable energy for a healthy planet and healthy lives,” adds Gulugulu.

Currently, it seems as if the government is more concerned with creating an upper middle-income economy in the next ten years at the expense of mitigating climate change.

Perhaps it has skipped the minds of policymakers that without a livable climate, there will be no tomorrow to enjoy the economic benefits in.

About the author

Kennedy Nyavaya

Kennedy is a multi-award winning, enterprising and hardworking communication practitioner with over half a decade of experience in mainstream media and public relations for civic organizations. In a journalism career spanning over half a decade, he has reported on various events, including those officiated by government officials and international diplomats and wrote different articles cutting across different topics, albeit with a keen interest in human rights, the environment and climate change.

He won Renewable Energy Reporter of the year 2020, Best ICT journalist 2018 (National Journalism and Media Awards), Sanitation and Hygiene journalist of 2018 (National Journalism and Media Awards).