Swaziland Plans 35-MW Biomass Plant

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Swaziland, a tiny landlocked monarchy, sandwiched between South Africa and Mozambique, and known for its wilderness reserves and festivals showcasing traditional Swazi culture, is planning a 35-MW biomass-powered plant to begin operations in three years.

The plant is expected to supply over 28 percent of Swaziland’s total electricity demand sustainably, displacing imported thermal power.

Montigny, a Swazi-owned forestry and sawmilling company that holds 60,000 hectares of Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified Plantations, is currently working with partners to take the project from pre-feasibility to bankable feasibility and to invest in the plant’s construction and operations.

“Our company focuses on sustainably maximizing the value of our forests, while leaving a positive impact on Swaziland and continuing to grow as a leader in the region,” Kelly Cure, head of strategic initiatives at Montigny Investments, told Renewable Energy World.

She said the idea for the plant was conceived after researching the optimal uses for forest and sawmill residues. Biomass will come from forest residue left over from the timber harvesting process.

“We now understand that our plantations can sustainably supply nearly 30 percent of the country’s energy,” she said. “Our estimates indicate that we will be able to supply 30 of the 35 MW to the national grid and use the remaining 5 MW internally.”   

Cure said Montigny is working closely with the local officials with the intention to agree with development partners in the weeks or months to come, adding that, the goal is to reach financial closure within the next year.

“The biggest challenge thus far has been agreeing the right partners to take this long-term venture forward with, although we are getting closer to the decision point,” she said.

Swaziland currently imports the vast majority of its energy from South Africa’s coal-fired plants, and although local hydro resources exist, with the present drought crisis, the situation is troubling.

“We are quite hopeful that by working with the local utility, Swaziland Electricity Company, the regulatory body Swaziland Energy Regulatory Authority, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Members of Parliament and our community that we can enable this promising project to progress,” Cure said.

She added that, ideally the company would like to stimulate momentum toward a “Sustainable Swaziland” and make the project a template for additional biomass power plants in the country and the region.

Cure said Swaziland has the potential to power itself on 100 percent renewables by harnessing the vast local resources available.

“Between the timber and sugar industries alone we estimate 150 MW could be sustainably produced each year,” she said.

Cure believes that pursuing a “Sustainable Swaziland” has numerous positive rippling effects, starting with creating employment opportunities, stimulating investment and conserving the environment properly.

In 2014 the African Development Bank (AfDB) issued a grant of US $990,000 to finance three studies under an energy sector support programme in Swaziland.

Alex Rugamba, director of the AfDB’s Energy, Environment and Climate Change Department, said they knew that there was significant scope to develop renewable energy sources in Swaziland — firewood, wood-waste, bagasse, hydropower and renewables like solar and wind.

“With this project, we hope to find ways to harness that potential and address some of the primary challenges around limited energy access such as low energy resources, limited investment in power generation and excessive reliance on imported power,” Rugamba said. “This will in turn attract private sector investment.”

Lead image credit: Neil Turner | Flickr

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Munyaradzi Makoni is a freelance journalist with an interest in climate change issues based in Cape Town, South Africa.

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