The exemption from the lengthy process required to amend its Atmospheric Emission Licence (AEL) for the Kusile power station granted by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to Eskom yesterday has been met with a mixed reaction, but for now, the measure will help it to reduce load shedding.
This as South Africa’s growth projection has been downgraded due to intense load shedding that is placing the fiscus, businesses and households under immense strain.
South Africa’s gross domestic product growth fell below pre-pandemic levels in the final quarter of 2022 to 1.3%.
On the one hand, the decision allows Eskom to bring in 2 100 megawatts (MW) from the Kusile power station by December while environmentalists are concerned that it will lead to an increase in deaths due to the sulphur dioxide emissions.
Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy said Eskom’s request pertained to a temporary solution to restore lost generation capacity at the Kusile power station while a damaged stack undergoes repairs, which are due for completion in December 2024.
In the interim, Eskom plans to construct the temporary stacks by November 2023, which it anticipates will allow the resumption of generation capacity of 2 100MW. This will reduce the country’s exposure to load shedding by two levels.
“I am equally aware of the health and associated impacts of exposure to sulphur dioxide emissions, particularly on communities in close proximity to coal-fired power stations... I have been called on to make an extraordinarily difficult decision,” Creecy said.
"The application had been brought due to the urgent need to alleviate the electricity crisis in the country," Creecy said.
The temporary solution proposed for Kusile envisages that Eskom will operate the temporary stacks without the use of the Flue Gas Delsuphurisation mechanism for a period of 13 months.
This is likely to result in increased sulphur dioxide emissions during this period, in excess of the current applicable limit contained in Kusile’s Atmospheric Emission Licence.
Eskom will now need to apply to the National Air Quality Officer for a once-off postponement with the compliance time frames for minimum emission standards for new plants.
The once-off postponement with the compliance time frames for minimum emission standards for new plants can only be valid until March 31, 2025, in terms of the applicable regulations.
According to a report from Finland-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (Crea), air pollution from Eskom's ailing fleet of coal-fired power stations will be responsible for 79 500 deaths from 2025 until their end-of-life, under the company’s planned retirement schedule and emission control retrofits.
The report, by Crea lead analyst Lauri Myllyvirta and air quality analyst Jamie Kelly, points out that Eskom’s lack of compliance with South Africa’s Minimum Emission Standards (MES) not only costs lives but affects the public purse too, as the lack of compliance by 2030 would be a R42 billion blow to the economy.
Eskom has stated that to comply with the standards will cost it R300bn and will not add any capacity to the national grid.
Creecy said Eskom had been granted an exemption subject to certain strict conditions.
Among other measures, Eskom must undertake to mitigate against the exposure of its employees and surrounding communities to harm which, at a minimum, must include independent health screenings and referral to appropriate public health facilities for treatment where necessary.
Energy analyst Lungile Mashele said yesterday that the decision was great news for the country as Eskom could continue to produce electricity at Kusile while the west stack was in repair.
“This will save the country from at least two levels of load shedding and allow for some normalcy. This, however, does not mean the end of load shedding, but certainly alleviates the fear of higher stages of load shedding, especially going into the winter months,” Mashele said.