The green fight to stop coal power

Environmentalists are hellbent on putting the brakes on the construction of 10 proposed coal-fired power stations by independent producers, which could bring tens of billions of rands’ worth of investment to the country in a bid to force government to use renewable energy instead.

These power stations have been mooted for construction under the coal-baseload independent power producer procurement programme that is being run by the department of energy and will see the power producers sell electricity to Eskom.

Earthlife Africa has instituted a review application after Department of Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa granted an environmental authorisation for the construction of the Thabametsi Power Station.

It will be constructed in Lephalale in Limpopo and could have a power capacity of between 600 and 1 200 megawatts.

That is not all. Groundwork, another environmental organisation, has appealed the environmental authorisation granted to the 600MW KiPower Station in Mpumalanga and the 1 050MW Colenso Power Station in KwaZulu-Natal.

The appeals are pending.

The other seven proposed coal-fired power stations that environmentalists are looking to stop are: Boikarabelo (Waterberg, Limpopo), Namane (Lephalale, Limpopo), Khanyisa (Emalahleni, Mpumalanga), Waterberg (Lephalale, Limpopo), Transalloy (Emalahleni, Mpumalanga), Umbani (Kriel, Mpumalanga) and Elitheni (Indwe, Eastern Cape).

Earthlife’s lawyer, Nicole Loser from the Centre for Environmental Rights, said that the centre was aware of all the proposed stations, but was focusing on three for now. Steps had been taken to apply for permits for these three.

Bidders for these projects are expected to meet onerous requirements, which include securing all environmental authorisations.

They are also expected to secure their coal, limestone and water supplies and a grid-connection agreement from Eskom.

Molewa has until the end of September to file records indicating how she gave the go-ahead for the construction of Thabametsi with the High Court in Pretoria. Marubeni Middle East and Africa Power are bidding to be co-developers for Thabametsi.

However, Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has not awarded the bid for Thabametsi and other stations in the pipeline. According to reports, the anticipated cost for Thabametsi could amount to about R30 billion.

Loser said that the review application was instituted last month.

She added that Molewa dismissed Earthlife’s appeal against the Thabametsi environmental authorisation twice – in May last year and March this year.

However, Molewa ordered Thabametsi to conduct a climate change impact assessment, which is currently under way and is expected to be completed in December.

“More and more countries are moving away from both coal and nuclear, and transitioning to renewable energy,” said Loser.

“South Africa is world renowned for its optimal renewable energy potential, for both solar and wind energy. The success of the renewable energy projects, which have been implemented in South Africa to date, should speak for themselves.

“Considering the high costs of coal and its impact on the health and wellbeing of South Africans, there is no justifiable basis for authorising new coal-fired power projects in our country,” she added.

Loser said that once Earthlife received the records, it would be able to supplement and amend the application papers for Thabametsi.

Department of environmental affairs spokesperson Albie Modise referred questions on the matter to Joemat-Pettersson’s department.

Department of energy spokesperson Thandiwe Maimane said: “The department is yet to make announcements on the preferred bidders for the coal power producer programme. Thus, [we] are not in a position to respond.”

Loser said the costs arising from the effect of coal-fired power stations on people’s health and the environment were rarely taken into account.

“In addition, little to no consideration is given to the huge costs South Africa will have to incur to address the impact of climate change, which will be further aggravated by the greenhouse gas emissions of more coal-fired power plants,” she said.

Loser said that renewable energy proved to be cheaper and cleaner, unlike the Medupi and Kusile coal-fired power stations.

In July, Eskom said it expected the combined cost of the two new power stations would rise to R306.4 billion, as opposed to R223.5 billion.

However, according to energy expert Chris Yelland, the managing director of EE Publishers, the Eskom cost estimates did not take into account interest accrued during construction and outstanding contractor claims – and, in the case of Medupi, the cost of installing a process to remove sulphur dioxide.

This, he said, could bring the total cost of both power stations to R420 billion.

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