Low peat deposits shorten timespan

Saturday November 28 2015

By KABONA ESIARA, The EastAfrican

The viability of Rwanda’s 15MW peat-to-power plant in Gishoma, which is to be commissioned in seven months, hangs in the balance after studies found that deposits around the site can only support generation for a few years.

The plant is expected to save Rwanda $17 million annually in thermal electricity generation, but the government has confirmed fears by analysts that the reserves will not last the expected 25 years.

The power from the plant is meant to supply Cimerwa, a cement manufacturing plant in Rwanda, which recently invested $170 million in a new modern dry process production plant with a capacity of 600,000 tonnes per year.

Dayan Mpongendame, the project manager of Gishoma Peat to Energy in western Rwanda, said studies showed that peat in the area can only last four to five years.

The decision to locate the plant in Gishoma was made in March 2011, when the government was under pressure to provide reliable power to investors.

The government had committed to supply 15MW to Cimerwa as part of an incentive to Pretoria Portland Cement (PPC) — a South African company — to expand the production line. PPC has a controlling stake in its Rwanda-based cement manufacturing company.   

“Gishoma became the natural choice to construct the plant largely because it was near Cimerwa, a local Rwanda company with concessions to mine peat in the area,” said Mr Mpongendame.

He said one option would be to relocate the plant after five years if transporting 432 tonnes of peat daily from areas with rich deposits — Bugesera and Akanyaru River — proves uneconomical.

John Bosco Mugiraneza, the chief executive officer of the Rwanda Energy Group, which is investing in the plant, said construction of the distribution facilities had been completed.

“It is now the power transmission line and stations that are causing the delay,” said Mr Mugwaneza.

Rwanda has huge peat reserves near Akanyaru River, Nyabarongo River, and the Rwabusoro plains.

The Rwabusoro marshland and Akanyaru River are estimated to have 77 per cent of the total deposits of peat in Rwanda, and are able to produce 450MW of electricity for 25 years.

Rwanda’s production capacity is 155 million tonnes of dry peat over 50,000 hectares.

Rwanda’s first peat master plan was developed in 1993, and indicates the potential at around 700MW of power generation.

The peat has been lying idle at the energy plant at Gishoma, slowing the government’s long-term plan to gradually switch off the expensive emergency heavy fuel generators.

In 2014, the country spent over $53 million on the emergency plants run by independent power producers and Reg.

But the thermal power bill has dropped slightly after the commissioning of the 28MW Nyabarongo 1 hydropower plant.

The government plans to generate 563MW from hydro, peat, methane gas and solar by 2018, and also import power through interconnection projects with Uganda, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.

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