Coal feet: Limpopo industrial park backed by China ditches plans to build power station

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  • A company developing a new industrial hub in Limpopo backed by Chinese investment has abandoned plans to build a coal power plant.
  • China last year stopped funding the construction of new coal-fired power stations abroad due to climate change. 
  • The group says it will instead use solar to power the steel, coking and pig iron plants it hopes to attract. 

The company overseeing the development of a proposed Chinese-backed industrial park in Limpopo says it has ditched plans to build a coal power station and will instead use solar power.

The Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone (MMSEZ) is an area of 8 000 hectares in the Vhembe district on Limpopo that the provincial government wants to develop into an industrial hub.  

At a business briefing in Polokwane on Wednesday, MMSEZ CEO Lehlogonolo Masoga said plans to build a coal-fired power plant to provide electricity for the hub's proposed steel, coking and pig iron plants had been ditched. 

"Environmentalists said no. World leaders said no – [saying instead] let's reduce our carbon footprint and stop producing energy through coal," said Masoga. "We have abandoned that part of the project. We are now focusing on solar."

Masoga said a Chinese company had shown interest in building a 1 000 MW solar plant in place of the coal power station, which he said would produce "cheap electricity". 

The company building the plant will need to get environmental authorisation, as well as a host of other permits, before construction can begin.

The MMSEZ has to date only received environmental authorisation to start clearing bush, lay water pipes and build roads.  

If the plant is built, it would be one of the largest solar power plants in the world.

"Once we have that power, we start to roll out other projects," said Masoga. 

Ditching coal 

The MMSEZ's coal power plant was conceived as a way for factories in the industrial park to access cheap and reliable power without relying on Eskom. 

According to early business plans, Chinese companies would build the coal plant and also construct most of the factories in the metallurgical cluster it would power. But these plans were cut short when Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to stop building new coal-fired power stations abroad last year.

The coal power plant would have also faced determined opposition by environmentalists who had pledged to oppose it. 

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