Apply law in Eskom appeal on air quality decision — activists
Utility warns of ‘negative impact’
Energy CorrespondentEnvironmental rights groups have called on the expert panel considering an appeal lodged against a decision made on Eskom’s compliance to clean air standards to apply the law as it stands.
The power utility has warned of the adverse consequences of the decision made by the department of forestry, fisheries & the environment in November 2021 to rein in emissions from the utility’s coal-fired power stations.
Eskom says that this decision will require the immediate shutdown of 15.9GW of coal-fired generation capacity and about 30GW by April 2025.
This decision is now under review pending further public stakeholder meetings.
But if the decision stands, Eskom warns that it "will have a significant negative impact on Eskom’s mandate to supply stable and reliable electricity for the country’s needs".
Several appeals were lodged by non-governmental organisations and Eskom against decisions taken by the department’s national air quality officer in relation to the requests for the suspension and/or postponement of compliance with the minimum emission standards (MES).
Eskom’s appeal includes the department’s refusal to grant it permission to postpone MES compliance at Matla, Duvha, Matimba, Medupi and Lethabo.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), acting for groundwork and Earthlife Africa has lodged appeals on issues such as the decision to grant suspension of compliance for Camden, Hendrina, Arnot, Komati, Grootvlei and Kriel power stations without detailed and clear decommissioning schedules accompanying the applications.
Facing a barrage of complex and conflicting appeals, environment minister Barbara Creecy, last year appointed an expert panel (MES Forum) to advise her on these and other appeals related to air quality decisions.
In a January 31 submission to the MES Forum, the CER, to comment on Eskom’s application for the postponement and suspension of MES compliance time frames as requested by the forum, says that the panel should let themselves be guided by law and not allow Eskom to continue to eschew its legal obligations.
"Time and time again, Eskom has been unable to comply with the law, bringing into question whether it should even have licence to operate a number of its facilities — let alone be granted postponements or suspensions for compliance with MES.
"Arguably, this is not an entity which, but for some lenience on emission standards, would be able to operate in compliance with the law," the CER says in its submission to the panel.
In the letter the CER also refers to a report by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air which outlined the human and economic cost of Eskom’s noncompliance.
"Under Eskom’s planned retirement schedule and emission control retrofits, emissions from the company’s power plants would be responsible for a projected 79,500 air pollution-related deaths from 2025 until end-of-life," said the report.
"Compliance would avoid a projected 34,400 deaths from air pollution and economic costs of R620bn."
The CER said in the letter that while it acknowledged that the "alleged possible economic and social consequences of MES compliance […] the consideration of people’s needs also requires consideration of the impacts of such decisions on human health in circumstances […] where human rights are violated as a result of unacceptable levels of air pollution, directly related to noncompliance with MES".
"People should not have to choose between jobs and their health or electricity and health — all are crucial," the letter states.
The CER said that its clients’ reserve the right to submit a formal and detailed response to Eskom’s appeal at a later stage.
Should the panel not find in Eskom’s favour it would not only further affect the utility’s ability to meet SA’s electricity needs, it could also have implications for Eskom’s plans for a quick fix that can bring three units at Kusile back online.
Engineering News reported that Eskom wanted to operate temporary stacks on units 1,2 and 3 of Kusile that have been offline since October due to a flue duct failure on unit 1.
However, the fix will bypass the flue-gas desulphurisation (FGD) system.
Eskom is therefore preparing to seek an exemption from the department to allow it to operate the units without using the air-pollution control system.
If allowed to proceed this solution will cut about a year off the time it would otherwise take to return the units to service.
Eskom spells it out: Eskom says that if it has to comply with a department of forestry, fisheries and environment decision on clean air standards, it will have to shut down 15.9GW of coal-fired generation capacity and about 30GW by April 2025. Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times