Retrofitting ‘too costly to save coal plants’
Parliamentary CorrespondentA full retrofit and refurbishment of SA’s ageing coal-fired fleet of power stations to meet emissions standards would cost about R400bn, public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan says.
These would also require long periods of shutdown, he said in a written reply to a question in parliament on the future of the plants in the context of SA’s just energy transition (JET), which envisages a gradual shift to renewable energy to meet SA’s climate-change pledges.
"Life-extension retrofits would take, at minimum, two years to complete, while flue gas desulphurisation [FGD] retrofits take up to seven years to complete. Such work would reduce supply and thus exacerbate the supply deficit currently causing load-shedding in SA," the minister said in reply to a question by EFF MP Omphile Maotwe.
"Many coal plants are noncompliant with national minimum emissions standards requirements. The continued operation of these plants would require extensive refurbishments of ageing equipment, as well as the retrofitting of FGD to achieve full environmental emissions compliance."
Maotwe wanted to know if it was possible for a country as coal-dependent as SA to transition away from coal in 15 years.
Gordhan cited the cost of retrofit and refurbishment to support his argument that there would be little fiscal prudence in investing limited capital budgets in aged coal plants.
It would be wiser, he said, to invest limited budgets towards new generating capacity from renewables.
He noted, however, that in terms of the just energy transition, SA’s plan was to transition to net zero emissions by 2050. It would continue to use its coal-fired plants in 2040.
In terms of the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan, which sets out SA’s future energy mix, the lifespan of coal-fired plants would extend well beyond 2040.
"An important consideration is that Eskom will only shut down coal plants when they are no longer economical to continue operating ... and the Eskom JET strategy does not call for premature shutdown of any of these plants. Therefore, Eskom will still be utilising coal ... well into the 2040s," Gordhan said.
Eskom has said previously that a decision by the department of forestry, fisheries & the environment in November 2021 to rein in emissions from Eskom’s coal-fired power stations would require an 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, which will be concluded early in 2025.
But if the decision stands, Eskom warned in a report that it "will have a significant negative impact on Eskom’s mandate to supply stable and reliable electricity for the country’s needs".
Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES