STIEGLERS GORGE POWER PROJECT, LIES EXPOSED AND TRUTH BE TOLD
When earlier in the year the news was broken here, that the Tanzanian government had reached deep into the bottom drawers of its archives and took out and dusted off the old plans for a power plant at Stieglers Gorge from back in the late 60s and early70s, vehement denials came streaming out of Dar es Salaam to the point of calling the article at the time a lie.
As time went by though, evidence piled up and upon constant digging did Tanzanian authorities in the end have to admit, that such plans were in fact being reactivated and reviewed, to include the latest advanced technologies in both dam building and the attached hydro electric power plants.
These internal discussions last week took a further step ahead, when it became known that officials from Brazil had come to Dar to discuss the project for the second time already, offering the support of Odebrecht, a company with significant experience in the construction of the mega projects above the Iguassu Falls and also in other locations.
Following the visit did the chairman of the Rufiji Basin Development Authority then call upon the Tanzanian public, to fully support the new dam, apparently without anyone being supposed to asking questions nor any ifs and buts. Prof. Raphael Mwalyosi said: It is time to go ahead with this project, so let the government go ahead with it and forget looking for other reliable sources of power. He also pointed out that the area required would only stretch over some 1.200 square kilometres compared to the overall size of the game reserve of 54.000 square kilometres, without however acknowledging the crucial importance of the Stieglers Gorge to the game viewing and safari experience of tourist visitors, nor did he mention that another assault on the integrity of the reserve was ongoing in parallel over plans to carve out another sizeable piece of the reserve for uranium mining, with potentially even greater impact on the environment due to the toxicity of the processes involved there.
Pre-judging and pre-empting on such projects is sadly the order of the day it seems in Tanzania, with great many similarities to other such development projects like the Lake Natron soda ash plant, which would destroy irrevocably the breeding grounds of millions of the lesser flamingo, or the planned highway across the crucial migration routes of the Serengeti, all the way to Tanga where the marine national park, only launched in 2008 after the discovery of the rarest of prehistoric fish, the coelacanth, is equally under threat of a new harbour being built right in the heart of the marine park.
It is understood that no environmental impact assessment has yet been done for the planned location of the Stieglers Gorge project and yet are mouthpiece after mouthpiece now publicly pushing for the dam and power plant, either ignorant of the need for a comprehensive EIA or else deliberately pushing this crucial aspect to the side for the sake of convenience and expediency.
There is no doubt that Tanzanias electricity sector has a massive deficit in production, but alternative and sustainable, especially renewable sources of energy can be equally developed on a major scale to meet the present shortfalls and cater for long term growth.
Experts in renewable energy from Germany let it on that they considered Tanzania as a prime country for the large scale introduction of wind and solar power, with refurbished and modernized existing hydro electric power plants and the gas fired installations serving as back up for the daily peak demand and occasional demand spike backups.
In Germany, a country which only recently committed to move away from nuclear energy as a result of the long term evacuation and storage problems of nuclear fuel rods and contaminated building materials, the national percentage level of sustainable and renewable energy production has risen substantially in past years and with the development of hydrogen fuel cell storage capabilities this form of energy is in fact expected to eventually play a major role in Germany.
Carefully selected sites in Tanzania for solar energy farms and wind farms would also be able to produce electricity much faster than a large scale hydro power project can, considering the construction time and prerequisite approvals, not just within Tanzania but also from the financiers.
If, as can be expected, the World Bank and the IFC get involved, stringent environmental assessments must be carried out with major offset mitigation options to be presented and to be viable, and the World Banks own World Commission on Dams Report has serious implications for locations chosen for dams, if not found entirely in line with key recommendations and requirements to be met.
The often more remote locations for solar and wind power energy production sites, while also necessitating a longer access line to the national grid, are regularly, because of the lack of significant human populations, found easier to deal with in terms of EIA approvals and mitigative measures.
Other legislative and regulatory measures too have not been exhausted by the Tanzanian government, such as the mandatory use of energy saving bulbs, banning the conventional types, or the mandatory use of solar water heaters for industries and households, which would considerably reduce peak demand and lower electricity consumption to a point where existing production, on condition that all hydro electric power plants are rehabilitated and refurbished to the latest standards, could meet the demands of more than half the present deficit, if not doing better even.
The International Rivers Network has already taken the Selous project into their cross hairs and are likely to lobby and pressure financing bodies for such large scale projects as the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, the German KFW and other major development banks and development institutions which could participate to syndicate the necessary loans to get the Stieglers Gorge project underway and see it through to completion.
There seems to be a protracted battleground being prepared, by the tourism sector fearing that one of the Selous main attractions will be destroyed for good, with environmentalists raising their own concerns on biodiversity and species displacement while the proponents of the mega project, seeing opportunities along the line to make a buck or two, will equally outspoken accept the battle cry and engage the opponents with like and then some more, considering that they will have the weight of the Tanzanian government behind it, including the police and other security organs. Not a level playing field for sure within Tanzania then, another reason why this campaign is now gathering momentum abroad too, just as it was the case with the Lake Natron soda ash factory, the highway across the Serengeti, the potential destruction of the Tanga Marina National Park and many other protected areas of the country, which of late have come to the attention of logging and mining firms. Watch this space.