Areva’s announcement of its intent to sell its Erongo Desalination Plant has become a bone of contention for the mining communities in the Erongo Region as well as for Namwater, which by law, is the bulk supplier of water.
Additionally, details of how a third desalination plant will fit into the overall mix are a mystery with Namwater already having signed off-taker agreements with three of its biggest users of bulk water, Langer Heinrich, Rössing and Swakop Uranium in 2013.
A point of interest to the Economist was Namwater’s interest to construct its own desalination plant, which has been on the cards as far back as 1996. Speaking to Namwater spokesperson Johannes Shigwedha briefly telephonically, he described the project as of national importance, thus indicating that the construction of the plant was still on the cards. Attempts by the Economist to gain further clarity on the issue of the Namwater desalination plant were not attended to at the time of going to press.
Despite signing an agreement with Namwater for the supply of water to its mine, Rössing proceeded with plans of its own and submitted a Social and Environmental Impact Assessment in January this year for the construction of its own plant, citing the costs of procuring water from the Erongo Desalination Plant as economically inhibitive, as a motivation.
An earlier attempt by the Economist to gain clarity on the perceived high cost of water from the Erongo Desalination Plant drew blanks, with Sugnet Smit, Areva’s spokesperson avoiding the issue completely.
Namwater and Areva jointly released a statement this week on the progress of the sale and perceived cost implications on the off-takers of the water (Rössing, Langer Heinrich and Husab), and stressed that negotiations were at an advanced stage but stating that Namwater is participating in the process only as part of the Government Negotiation Team.
“The two parties wish to reiterate that they have no differences over the process of negotiation to purchase the Erongo Desalination Plant” according to this week’s statement, which added “with the sale to the Namibian Government of its Desalination Plant, AREVA only intends to recover the capital invested.”
On its part, Namwater said, “NamWater, as the country’s bulk water supplier, is part of the Government Negotiation Team, which is engaged in consultations to purchase the Erongo Desalination Plant. NamWater is committed to providing its customers with a reliable source of quality water at the lowest possible rates in accordance with approved tariff structures.”
The ownership of the Erongo Desalination Plant was at some point in dispute with United Africa Group claiming part shareholding in 2012. This was however denied by Areva. During the same period, Gecko Mining announced plans to build its own desalination plant but this idea was later scrapped.