Mpumalanga – the hub of South Africa’s fossil-fuelled energy – has proposed an ambitious U-turn from brown to green economy development in the next 14 years.
The Mpumalanga Green Economy Development Plan aims to change the province’s economy from relying on coal-based energy to one boasting biomass-based energy, sustainable agriculture, tourism and ecoconscious towns by 2030.
At present, the coal mining, power generation and petrochemical industries are the backbone of the province’s economy. These are worth billions of rands and employ tens of thousands of people.
Tourism based on agriculture and nature conservation have been competing for land with the mining industry in a tug-of-war that has pitted government and industry against environmental organisations.
Mpumalanga produces 80% of the country’s electricity from 12 coal-powered power stations.
One more power station, the 300 megawatt Khanyisa Power Station in Emalahleni, is due for construction after Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson awarded the first tenders to independent power producers last month.
About 54% of the province’s land surface, particularly in the highveld region, is either being mined or has permits and prospecting rights issued over it.
The green economy plan designed by the Mpumalanga department of finance and economic development, however, suggests a complete shift – which will see more resources being redirected into renewable green energy initiatives.
It casts mining, power generation and petrochemical production in a bad light for being the leading carbon emission contributors in the country, and for compromising air and water quality that affects biodiversity and human health.
“The transition towards a green economy involves shifting away from the traditional brown economy approach, which is relatively resource intensive, depends heavily on fossil fuels, often leads to environmental degradation and involves unsustainable levels of resource extraction,” the plan reads.
“The green economy seeks to reduce the adverse effects of the brown economy by embracing economic activities that result in improved human wellbeing over the long term, while reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.”
Environmental organisation groundWork’s coal campaign manager, Robby Mokgalaka, lauded Mpumalanga for the plan.
“This is a good move given the fact that Mpumalanga is a priority area for us, as people get sick from polluted air. They should start with their plan as soon as possible and what they say should be in line with what is done in terms of issuing new licences”, Mokgalaka said.
The plan proposes biomass as the priority green energy initiative for the province. It will explore energy generation from forestry and sugar cane, which face decline because of less demand for paper and the proposed sugar tax.
“We’re talking to a number of companies such as Sappi [pulp and paper producer] and Safcol regarding bioenergy production projects. Wood, leaves and branches can be used,” said provincial policy and planning director Nkosinathi Nkonyane.
“All we need to do is to get engineers and everybody involved. We can even use municipal and animal waste and look into small initiatives such as smokeless stoves,” Nkonyana said.
The greener-towns initiative proposes waste-to-energy projects such as biogas generation from wastewater treatment plants, energy-efficient buildings with on-site power generation through renewable energy technologies and new methods of cooking, heating water and space heating within homes.
Agriculture and tourism have been two of the province’s economic pillars, though these are under threat from mining.
To implement its plan, the Mpumalanga government will need about R30 million.
According to the document, Mpumalanga hopes that, once the plan is implemented, it will follow the Western Cape’s Green Cape initiative that has attracted R17.5 billion in investment over a five-year period and created 2 500 jobs.