The two towers spewing carbon monoxide from the more than 25 year-old Morupule Power Station are the oldest landmarks in Palapye that are associated with the plant that powers industrial Botswana and keeps thousands of households glued to their television screens.
Besides their engineering marvel, they raise little concerns in the village about deadly greenhouse gases they release into the atmosphere.
However, a visit to the village located about 275 km north of Gaborone shows that the two chimneys are slowly losing their status as they are giving way to much taller ones in the adjacent power station, which is under construction with a stylish name Morupule B.
The two new towers, of the total of the four, will change the landscape of the village and form part of the power plant that will ease power difficulties that became regular occurrence since local folks became familiar with words ‘load shedding’ and ‘load shifting’ in 2008.
Morupule B Power Station, is a new 600 MW or (4 x 150 MW units) coal fired power plant that will be at least five times more than the current 132 MW installed capacity at (Morupule A) when completed next year and together with the commissioning of the 90 MW plant in Orapa (next month) will make the country self sufficient next year.
The power plant, which is been built by China National Electric Equipment Corporation (CNEEC) will alleviate the country’s power crisis and instill investor confidence.
The energy project together with construction of dams are seen by government as a measure to promote economic recovery and not see the country caught off guard again.
However, the road to energy self sufficiency does not come cheap. Government is spending large sums of borrowed money on the project which will mean government sacrificing on some projects, and the likelihood will be to see the power utility passing the cost to the consumers. Palapye residents will also have to cover their noses and live with the emissions of more gases into the atmosphere.
Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources Ponatshego Kedikilwe acknowledges the end is on sight, but warns it will come at a price.
Kedikilwe, who describes himself as a ‘chief cook’ to these projects talks of the economy ‘sinking P11 billion’ which will mean the country foregoing some projects to repay the loan to lenders that include amongst others the World Bank and African Development Bank (AfDB).
“That money will have to be paid back somehow; either I look at the tariffs (in the sense) of talking about cost reflective tariffs or I have to talk to government to give me the subsidy,” says the minister.
The US$ 931 million figure, although it will be re-paid over a long period of time, has left the minister warning that some projects will need to wait and sacrifices made. “Something will have to give”.
Morupule B will be delivered in stages with the first 150 MW unit expected by the first 2 months of 2012 while the other units will be delivered over remainder of the year. However, the minister warns that although ‘at the end of next year, we might have a little surplus’, this will only take the country to 2015-16.
Botswana’s current peak demand is a little bit over 500 MW and it will go up in 2012 to 600 MW, which will mean Morupule filling the shoes left by Eskom, as the South African state company is slowly reducing exports to Botswana Power Corporation (BPC).
Data shows that by 2008, around 80 percent of the electricity supplied in Botswana consisted of imports from South Africa’s Eskom and other neighbouring countries, while 20 percent was generated by the country’s only generation plant, Morupule A.
Botswana expects to have totally discontinued importing power by 2013, although Kedikilwe advises it will not be wise to abandon traditional sources; namely South Africa, Mozambique or Namibia.
The country also hopes to release it surplus electricity for use by Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) with the aim to be a net energy exporter by 2013. Currently, the country uses the pool electricity from Mozambique, but the problem is that the power comes at night when most of the people are sleeping in Botswana and not watching television.
“We are not only looking at the present. By 2015-16, we must deliver another 300 MW,” argues the minister. “That is why we are in tight economic situation. We have decided to build power stations; whether it is solar, landfills or thermal…..it s not cheap”.
Although, Kedikilwe does not want to be alarmist and say consumers are likely to pay for higher tariffs, he warns that people should know that electricity in the country is over-subsidised.
However, energy expects believe the consumers should not be punished for government’s failures. It is argued that if Botswana had built power stations when it was running surpluses and limit reliance on Eskom, it would be in a better position to export, even to South Africa, which is also experiencing energy difficulties. “What is happening currently is that BPC is not charging cost reflective tariffs,” argues the minister. He says this financial year 2011/ 12, government has given the state utility P580 million “This is not sustainable,” says Kedikilwe.
If the consumers were to pay what the power utility was paying to suppliers, then electricity in the country could have been expensive. “We have to appreciate that households are not of the same levels”.
The power plant is also likely to put on the map as more carbon monoxide will be released into the air by the six chimneys. There are concerns with power shortages; Botswana may use its coal to build a couple of power stations that may make the country one of the polluters.
Previous studies have shown that emissions from coal plants and mines are harmful to the environment with countries like South Africa being forced to shift to cleaner energy sources like solar and other renewable energies.
Greenpeace International is one organisation that has been keeping governments and Independent Power Producers (IPPs) in check and has argued that these coal powered power stations add to global warming.
“Once coal has been mined and processed, the vast majority of it is sent to power plants. This is the second major phase in the dirty life cycle of coal. Coal burning power stations continue to speed up global warming by filling the atmosphere with vast amounts of carbon dioxide,” said the NGO.
Data has showed that on average one 500-megawatt coal-fired power plant produces approximately 3 million tons/year of CO2.
Government admitted that coal fired power stations, like any other fossil fuel power stations, emit sulphur dioxide, noxious gases and particulate matters and these have impact on the environment (land, air, soil) and human health, but said that these are subject to environmental assessment studies.
BPC Chief Executive Officer, Jacob Raleru acknowledges that the plant as it burns coal will release gases to the atmosphere, but says the plant design allows it to be less harmful to the environment.
Raleru says they did an environmental study that has been approved by the World Bank. Power plants have to follow the Equator Principles, which are a voluntary set of standards for determining, assessing and managing social and environmental risk in project financing.
The principles represent a significant industry-wide initiative. They were drafted by leading global banks in consultation with the IFC (a division of the World Bank), project sponsors, project engineers, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Raleru reveals ‘on the basis of the study’, the design of the power plant will limit emission of sulphur like the use of limestone, which is known to reduce the emission of carbon monoxide.
“We have satisfied the financiers that we will limit the impact on the environment,” says Raleru.
“The designs of the power plant are within the World Bank and government’s requirements”.
There are other energy projects in the pipeline that include Coal Bed Methane (CBN) and those that will use solar. But all these are not near Morupule B.