Business Reporter

The exploitation of coalbed methane (CBM) gas will be opened up to more private sector players after Government completes compiling new guidelines.

CBM is a natural gas that is often used for power generation.

Currently, the Ministry of Energy and Power Development and the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development are developing a policy on both exploration and mining of the resource.

Energy and Power Development Minister Fortune Chasi (pictured) believes the policy has to be “known and acceptable” to players in the sector.

“As Government, we have no desire of generating power from those (CBM) areas. Our interest is making sure we open up the space for the private sector and we facilitate investment,” he said.

“We are working to establish the necessary policy and regulatory framework so that people who want to carry out exploration will find the framework available. The framework will have to be something which is internationally acceptable. We do not want to reinvent the wheel. We want a document that is known and acceptable by players in the sector.”

There are rich CBM deposits in Matabeleland North, especially in the Hwange-Binga-Lupane area, as well as the south-east Lowveld area in Chiredzi.

It is estimated that the country has over 40 trillion cubic feet of potentially recoverable methane gas in Matabeleland North.

Uses of natural gas include heating and cooking at domestic level, electricity generation and production of chemicals such as ammonia-based fertilisers.

Methane gas has been touted as one of the alternative energy sources that can be harnessed to alleviate power shortages as the country grapples with a deficit of over 1 000 megawatts (MW).

In recent decades, CBM has become an important source of energy in the United States, Canada, Australia and other developed countries.

The term refers to methane absorbed into the solid matrix of the coal.

Present demand for electricity stands at 2 200MW, which is way above the country’s installed capacity of 1 900MW.

There are two mining companies — Zambezi Gas and Discovery Investments — that have been registered by the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development to mine natural gas in the Lupane area.

However, Kusile Rural District Council in Lupane has since approached Government to consider revoking Discovery Investments’ mining licence together with two prospective coal mining companies for taking long to kickstart envisaged energy projects.

Discovery Investments seeks to extract coalbed methane gas within its Special Grant situated at Mzola and Dandanda communal areas.

The company was issued with an Environmental Impact Assessment certificate by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) in 2015 to start setting up its infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Minister Chasi said there have been expressions of interest for investments in the country’s three thermal power stations — Harare, Bulawayo and Munyati.

“We are looking at a variety of factors around the rehabilitation of the country’s small thermal power stations. There have been investors that have expressed interest in doing that and we want to see the practicality of the arrangements that they have proposed . . . we want a holistic and long-lasting solution. We have to determine the small thermals’ role in our future energy mix,” he said.