With abundance of coal that can generate electricity, there are concerns that Botswana risks being counted amongst the number of polluting nations through its large investments in coal fired energy projects to meet current power shortfalls from Eskom.
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.
Botswana is spending over P11 billion to upgrade its Morupule Power Station by adding more units as the country moves to be self sufficient in energy. However, the developments might put the country on the list of polluting nations.
Currently, Morupule generates 132 MW and a Chinese consortium is building 4 more units that will push the power generation to 600 MW (4 x 150). The first 150MW unit is expected to be in service by January 2012, and the last unit is expected to be in service by October 2012.
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.
“However, when such stations are established, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is conducted to guide the technological solutions that have to be provided during the design and operation stages for mitigation of emissions,” said a response from the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism early this year.
“Therefore, Morupule B and Mmamabula have been subjected to EIA hence environmental threats envisaged will be taken care by the mitigation measures.”
While burning coal in power plants is most harmful to air quality, due to the emission of dangerous gases, the process of mining can release pockets of hazardous gases.
Botswana Power Corporation (BPC), the state owned equivalent of Eskom, is moving to mitigate the impact of the power plant on environment.
The corporation is in the process of engaging consultants for air quality monitoring network for its use and to the Department of Waste Management and Pollution Control (DWMPC).
“It is envisaged that air emissions from this new power plant along with the existing power plant will contribute significantly to the air pollution load in the region,” BPC stated.
The corporation said the objective of the assignment amongst others will be to develop the emission standards for coal-fired power stations, and to review, and if necessary propose updates for ambient air quality standards for Botswana.
It is also meant to recommend measures for compliance with the ambient air quality objectives.
Botswana is estimated to be sitting on coal reserves of 200 billion tones, which have attracted Indian and Australian companies like CIC Energy.
CIC Energy is in the process of building a 300 MW power plant at the Mookane coal fields as it awaits a green light to build a 1500 MW Mmamabula Export Power Plant that will supply the region.
In Botswana, once the plant is established, the ministry, through the Department of Waste Management and Pollution Control (DWMPC), licenses and monitors the power station processes through regular inspections to ensure compliance to the set standards.
The license requires the management of such plants to have self monitoring system that will monitor the performance of the plant as far as emission discharge is concern.
The license also requires facilities to establish self monitoring systems. Similarly, DWMPC has monitoring stations close to such plants to ensure 24 hour surveillance.
“In case of failure to comply with the set emission standards, DWMPC and the proponent engages each other to come up with appropriate practical mitigation solution that allows permissible level of pollutants to be emitted without causing adverse impact on the environment. The worse scenario will be when DWMPC takes appropriate action against the management of such facilities if failure to comply persists,” said the ministry.
Government added that a country can be termed a polluter when its emissions exceed what the environment can cope with – thrash hold level.
However, there are various factors that collectively contribute to a country to be a polluter and these including level of industrialisation, concentration of power stations, amount of generated power in relation to emissions produced and continuous emissions beyond thrash hold level.